116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Fans were back in McLeod Center and AJ Green was back in uniform, but Northern Iowa’s season-opener against Nicholls State fell flat Tuesday night as the Colonels pulled away in the second half for a 62-58 win.
Tied at 29 at halftime, first-half shooting struggles got worse after the break for UNI. An 8-for-22 mark in the game’s first 20 minutes was followed by a 7-for-28 mark in the following 20.
After falling behind by 13 with just under three minutes to play, the Panthers were able to make things interesting in the game’s final minutes. A 12-2 run included four points from Tywhon Pickford and was punctuated by Antwan Kimmons’ layup to create a one-possession game at 57-54 with a minute to play. But Devante Carter and Latrell Jones’ 5-of-6 effort from the free-throw line sealed the win for Nicholls State.
“We got stuck offensively,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “I think (there were) a lot of good shots that did not go in and then we just got slowed down a little bit and didn’t get the ball moving side-to-side as much as we would like to. As coaches we’ll figure out what adjustments we need to make and the guys need to turn their attention to Vermont.”
Green — who last played on Nov. 27, 2020 — failed to find his shooting stroke against the 2020-21 Southland Conference champions. The junior had by far the worst shooting night of his career, going 1-of-14 from the field and 0-for-7 from behind the 3-point line to finish with only four points.
“It’s (Green’s) first game back. It’s tough to come back from (being) off a year,” UNI guard Trae Berhow said. “We have all the faith in the world with him. That man puts in more work than anyone I’ve known in my entire life. I’m not worried about that, he’s AJ Green.”
The Panthers' struggles weren’t wire-to-wire, though. UNI jumped out to a 12-4 lead in the first five minutes of the game, but the Colonels tied the score at 15 less than five minutes later and kept the Panthers offense from getting restarted the remainder of the game.
“The start of the game it felt like, man, it’s great to be back and we were ready to roll. We got off to that quick start,” Jacobson said. “ The way that we had practiced coming in and the way we started that (first) five, six minutes I did not see that coming offensively.”
Austin Phyfe led all scorers with 20 points and added nine rebounds in 32 minutes. Pickford was the only Panther to join him in double figures with 13.
“Phyfe was really important,” Jacobson said. “There were a couple times in the first half that felt like we were able to get the ball side-to-side and we missed him. We’ve got to make sure we’ve always got an eye on (Phyfe).”
UNI’s Noah Carter left the game late in the first half after a hard fall on a layup attempt. He was seen grabbing and stretching his back after the fall, but reentered the game before the first half was over only to quickly check back out and receive treatment for the rest of the game. Jacobson did not have an update on his status.
UNI (0-1) hosts Vermont (0-0) Thursday at 5 p.m. (ESPN+).