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CEDAR FALLS — A tough non-conference men’s basketball schedule took its second bite out of Northern Iowa Wednesday night at McLeod Center as Vermont rolled past the Panthers, 71-57.
Shooting struggles that began in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to Nicholls State carried over against the Catamounts, as UNI (0-2) shot just 36 percent from the floor and 29 percent from 3-point range.
“It’s been a little bit of an interesting start,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said postgame. “We played much better offensively the first half tonight than we did in the game on Tuesday. Our pace was much better, our cutting was much better, we moved the ball much better and had some good opportunities that we didn’t cash in on.”
Leading 33-29 at halftime, Vermont (1-0) improved upon a solid first half, shooting 48 percent in the second while routinely finding holes in the Panthers defense. Ben Shungu and Isaiah Powell led the Catamounts in their upset win, scoring 19 and 17 points, respectively.
“Vermont is highly skilled at all five positions,” Jacobson said. “We tried a couple different things. You’ve got to do a lot of things right within that 30-second possession against a team like Vermont.”
Despite all its struggles, UNI trimmed Vermont’s lead, which grew to as much as 17, to 10 with just over six minutes to play on a putback from AJ Green and a three-point play from Antwan Kimmons.
On their next two possessions, though — the first off a Kimmons steal — the Panthers turned the ball over and hopes of a comeback effectively ended.
“Antwan had one of the turnovers and he’s just trying to do the right thing,” Jacobson said. “He’s coming full speed because I’ve asked him to do that. He played a little bit as a freshman, and last year, of course, he was home with his family during COVID, so he hasn’t played a lot of game minutes. It’s going to be a process for him.”
Green, who endured the worst shooting performance of his career in Tuesday’s season-opener, bounced back with a team-high 19 points and a 5-of-10 effort from the field. However, shots were once again hard to come by for the junior, as the Catamounts pressured the Missouri Valley Conference preseason player of the year more than 30 feet away from the basket.
Noah Carter and Austin Phyfe joined Green in double figures with 11 points a piece.
Carter, who injured his back in Tuesday’s loss, didn’t start but played 20 minutes against Vermont and said that he’s still dealing with some soreness.
UNI returns to action Sunday evening at 5 p.m. against Dubuque at McLeod Center (ESPN+).
“You have to (stay positive),” Jacobson said. “You’re two games into 31 games. You have to do a couple things. You have to really evaluate why we didn’t execute some things as a team. For me as our head coach, are we doing the right things? Are we putting them in the best spots possible? I didn’t do a great job Tuesday and I didn’t do a good enough job tonight.”