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Bradley hands UNI men’s basketball third straight loss
Braves get out to a big lead and Panthers never close all the way, fall 77-69
CEDAR FALLS — An 18-4 first half scoring run proved too much to overcome as Northern Iowa suffered its third-straight loss, 77-69, to Bradley on Saturday at McLeod Center.
UNI began the nationally-televised game with a narrow 17-15 lead that included a quick five points off the bench from Landon Wolf and a one-handed Cole Henry dunk, assisted by Bowen Born.
The Braves (17-8, 10-4 Missouri Valley) then sparked their first-half outburst with extended defensive pressure that stalled the Panthers offense and forced six UNI turnovers during the run and eight in the half.
Duke Deen scored 11 points during the run as Bradley grew its lead to as much as 14 before going into halftime with a 37-27 advantage.
“There was two possessions where we went down to double (team) the post and we didn’t execute either one of them correctly. The biggest part of that is we didn’t get enough time on the practice floor with that from a prep standpoint. I didn’t get us enough reps at it,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “The biggest key for us in that first half — what really hurt us — is we weren’t physical enough. In particular with our screening. We weren’t able to get Trey and Bowen ... get that defender behind them.”
The Braves fought off multiple comeback attempts by UNI (12-12, 8-6) throughout the second half, beginning with an 8-0 run from the Panthers that shrunk Bradley’s lead to 40-35 with 17:47 remaining.
Trey Campbell began the run with a steal that led to a fastbreak up-and-under layup by Michael Duax and ended as a three-point play. On each side of Duax’s acrobatics, James Betz hit a 3 and pushed through Bradley’s Rienk Mast for a contested lay-in that provoked a Braves timeout.
UNI threw its next punch seven minutes later, going on a 7-0 run to get within a possession at 52-50, but failed to even the score with a turnover and missed layup on its next two trips on offense.
Connor Hickman’s fifth 3 with 5:29 remaining forced a Jacobson timeout with the Panthers trailing 64-55. Along with Hickman, Mast helped seal Bradley’s win by scoring 15 of his 18 points in the second half.
“We made four mistakes and they made 3s on all four of those,” Jacobson said. “They’re a good 3-point shooting team, so they’re going to make some, but you can’t give them the four that I’m talking about to tack on to the four or five they’re going to make in a half. There were just some mistakes that hurt us defensively.”
A final comeback attempt from UNI included a brief 7-0 run, followed by a Born 3 with 34 seconds left to get within two possessions, but the Braves converted a pair of free throws and rebounded Born’s next two misses to clinch their win.
Malevy Leons and Mast led Bradley with 18 points apiece and were joined in double figures by Hickman and Deen, who scored 17 and 11, respectively.
Betz led the Panthers with 16 while Duax added 14 and Born finished with 11.
“They were — as teams have been — they’re going to continue to make it really hard for (Born) to come off anything clean,” Jacobson said. “There were times when we got him freed up and their second guy got there to help take that away, but there were too many times where we didn’t set a good enough screen.”
UNI finished 24-of-51 (47 percent) from the field, but made only 7 of its 26 3-point attempts while allowing Bradley to finish 16-of-26 from distance.
Jacobson acknowledged post game that his staff is currently caught in between needing practice reps while also protecting the physical stamina of one of his youngest teams in his 17-year tenure
“The one thing that we’ve done is really shorten our practices. We shorten them every year. Now, depending on the experience of our team, depending on the depth of a particular team,” Jacobson said. “With this team we’ve had to dial it back even more. So we aren’t getting as many reps on the practice floor right now and it’s a catch-22, because we need them.”
The Panthers travel to Evansville (4-21, 0-14) next for a 7 p.m. tipoff Wednesday (ESPN+).