116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Thirty-two bench points helped send Northern Iowa past Evansville on Sunday afternoon in its Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball home opener, 83-61.
After two cancellations at the Diamond Head Classic due to COVID-19 created an eight-day layoff, the Panthers showed no rust, shooting 54 percent from the floor (29-of-53) and hitting half the 3-pointers (11-of-22) they launched.
The comfortable win over the Purple Aces (4-9, 0-2), UNI’s first MVC victory, was Evansville’s first game since Dec. 8 due to cancellations.
“We had a 40 point first half, so we had a good offensive first half,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “I like the way we defended for as much switching as we did. At times you can get to standing around when you’re not guarding the ball and I felt like we moved around and got to guys better than we did against Liberty and Wyoming.”
UNI’s bench effort was led by Noah Carter and Antwan Kimmons, who scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, joining AJ Green (18), Trae Berhow (16) and Nate Heise (10) in double figures.
A lineup of Carter, Kimmons, Bowen Born, Cole Henry and Berhow grew the Panthers’ lead to a first-half high of 15 at 30-15 with 4:46 left in the half.
“A very different defensive effort by our guys than the two games we played at Evansville (last season),” Jacobson said.
To begin the second half, the starters — with Carter in for Phyfe (long COVID) who played only four minutes — regained a double-digit lead with a 10-0 run. The run included three layups, two of them with fouls converted to three-point plays by Berhow and Carter.
“We’re getting there,” Jacobson said of the rotation and lineups. “Most of the stuff with the rotation and lineups is outside of our control with guys being hurt, guys being sick. The other thing I would say is, Noah is a starter. As he’s showing, he’s a guy that’s plenty capable of being in the starting lineup. It’s like you’re putting another starter in the game when he goes in.”
Berhow, whose double-figure effort was only his second of the season, says he’s remained confident despite experiencing a season that’s made it hard to maintain rhythm.
“The biggest thing is we’ve got scorers all around,” Berhow said. “There’s a lot more things I can help the team with. Just scoring with communication, whether it be at the defensive end or offensive end.”
Jacobson, who coached his 500th career game (306-196) at the Diamond Head Classic two weeks ago, says his team used the time off with two intense days of film study followed by two intense days of practice.
“One of the areas that we talked a lot about and watched a lot of film on was us getting to shooters more often and closing that space so it’s a harder shot,” Jacobson said. “We felt like we gave up too many open 3s when we were in Hawaii those two games.”
UNI (5-7, 1-1) hosts Valparaiso (8-6, 1-1) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (ESPN+).