116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — The sting of a Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinal loss to Loyola-Chicago has lessened for Northern Iowa men’s basketball.
Having another game to play in the NIT in two days, though, is really helping the Panthers turn the proverbial page.
“As you might expect it took a couple days to get past the semifinal game,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “This is a great opportunity. I love practicing after the Valley tournament, because that means you’ve still got something going and that’s pretty special.”
Sunday night’s NIT selection show unveiled a return trip at St. Louis on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. to take on the third-seeded Billikens (23-11) at Chaifetz Arena (ESPN+).
Jacobson began his film study with the common opponents the two teams faced this season.
The Billikens went 3-3 against Illinois State, Richmond and St. Bonaventure. Meanwhile, the Panthers registered three wins over Illinois State this season, lost at home to Richmond in December and upset then-No. 16 St. Bonaventure on the road, 90-80, in late November.
“There’s probably more similarities than differences,” Jacobson said of his team and St. Louis. “Offensively they run some flow, which is our base offense. Some of the off-ball stuff that they run is staggers or some different things for their scorer. Some things that we would run a little bit.”
St. Louis is led by freshman guard Gibson Jimerson and sophomore point guard Yuri Collins.
Jimerson — a third-team all-A-10 honoree — averages 16.2 points per game and has shot 42 percent from 3 with 83 makes, one shy of AJ Green’s 84 this season.
“Anytime you’ve got a guy that has made that many 3s and is somebody that you have to get to that has the size and the ability to do some other things (it’s hard),” Jacobson said. “He’s got enough versatility and size that it’s going to be a challenge.”
Collins — a first-team A-10 honoree — leads the country in assists with 267, 36 more than Jalen Moore of Oakland who sits in second place. Collins also adds 11.1 points per game.
“(He’s got) just a really, really good feel for using that ball screen and getting downhill and putting you in really tough spots,” Jacobson said.
A UNI win Wednesday night could potentially mean a home game on Sunday if Long Beach State defeats BYU.
While the fate of another home game is out of the Panthers’ hands, the chance to play at Madison Square Garden in New York City is squarely in their hands, as three wins stand between them and the “Mecca of Basketball.”
“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Jacobson said of the chance to play at Madison Square Garden. “We’ve talked about some of (its) bigger moments.”