116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — After a dominant 95-75 win over Missouri Valley Conference title contender Missouri State on Sunday, Northern Iowa controls its own destiny, in first place with only two games remaining.
With four teams challenging for the regular-season MVC championship, UNI head coach Ben Jacobson says he hasn’t shied away from talking to his team about the stakes.
“The guys understand where we’re at, where things are at,” Jacobson said. “They’ve continued to do a good job of getting ready. I really think that’s where their focus is. I’ve talked with this team more about the conference race than I have with any of our teams.”
Asked if being in control of their own destiny gives the Panthers (16-10, 12-4) any comfort, Jacobson instead pointed out how they’ve embraced their circumstances.
“We talked about it quite a bit going back to the back-to-back losses to (Valparaiso) and Drake,” Jacobson said. “For four, five games in a row after that, we just talked about, hey, every time we walk out there we’re playing a championship-type game. If we’re going to be in this thing in the last 10 days, every time we step out there, this is a championship-type game.”
Since its loss to Loyola-Chicago two Sundays ago, the Panthers have responded, edging out a road win at Illinois State before blowing out the Bears.
Next up is a rematch against Indiana State (11-17, 4-12).
The Sycamores — who played with only seven players in their first game against the Panthers, due to health and safety protocols — will host UNI with their entire roster Wednesday at Hulman Center (7 p.m., ESPN+).
Among the notable Indiana State absences in the first tilt — which required overtime for an 80-74 Panthers win — is senior guard Cooper Neese.
Neese is averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game this season and sits fourth in the MVC in made 3s (57).
“Their games have been highly competitive. Everybody on the roster shoots shots from the 3-point line, so it’s a lot to handle,” Jacobson said. “Defensively, they’re well-scouted. They know who they want to guard (and) who they don’t want to guard. So, they’ll play off Tywhon (Pickford), they’ll play off Tytan (Anderson), they’ll play off Antwan (Kimmons).”
Jacobson pointed out how UNI’s offense has adjusted and continues to learn how to deal with opponents playing off the aforementioned trio — most notably, when it comes to Pickford.
“It’s still a challenge right now, but we’ve seen it enough (with) practice reps and our guys have confidence now playing against it,” Jacobson said. “We’ve found ways and have gotten comfortable with being able to play against that, because we see it almost every night now.”