116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s best game of the men’s basketball season provoked a 92-65 blowout win over Valparaiso Wednesday night at McLeod Center.
Two games after detailing a deep dive into his team’s defensive and offensive shortcomings after the Diamond Head Classic, coach Ben Jacobson’s team flashed the type of potential its Missouri Valley Conference peers will be taking notice of.
“Our activity level has been great since we got back from Hawaii. Our ball movement has been really good,” Jacobson said. “Tonight we had a bunch of guys playing well. I love what the guys are doing right now. What we’ve really liked from our guys since we’ve been back is their willingness to look at it and say, ‘OK, I see what you’re talking about, we have to be better.’”
The Panthers (6-7, 2-1) began flexing their potential after tip-off, going on an 11-2 run to open the game that included two Trae Berhow 3s.
UNI extended its lead to 19 with a 14-3 run that included a Nate Heise dunk and 3, AJ Green runner and impressive ball movement from point-center Cole Henry.
“Our defense won the game for us in the first half,” Jacobson said. “I’ve been doing this a long time; you don’t get many conference games that you win by 20 points. These guys have been able to do it back-to-back times because they’re playing their tails off on defense and passing the ball to each other on offense.”
Noah Carter led all scorers with 20 points, drawing a start in place of Austin Phyfe (long COVID) and doing much of his damage in the paint, making just one of his four 3-point attempts.
“He’s got such an ability to make baskets,” Jacobson said of Carter. “There’s not a ton of them, but there’s guys that when they shoot the ball it rolls in more often than it rolls out. He’s put time in to help make that happen. Tonight what I liked the most was just the physical play that he brought. He’s turned it up in terms of his physical play and that’s a real key for him, a guy that scores the way he does.””
Carter was joined in double figures by Berhow (17), Tytan Anderson (12) and Heise (10).
Anderson’s 12 points was a career-high. The freshman also put his ability to disrupt the game on full display, corralling six rebounds — four of them offensive — and grabbing a steal in 18 minutes.
“What everybody saw tonight is exactly how (Anderson) practices every day,” Jacobson said. “He gets to so many basketballs because he plays so hard. That’s a big deal. We ran one clearout for him, but other than that he got himself to spots on the floor. He’s hard to handle when he gets anywhere inside the lane lines.”
After reaching a 43-22 lead at halftime, UNI took a step sideways according to Jacobson, not living up to its standard defensively in the second half.
Despite the second half-struggles on defense, UNI got 18 turnovers out of the Beacons (8-7, 1-2). It also outdid itself offensively in the game’s final 20 minutes, scoring 49 points and manufacturing a stretch where it made 12 of 13 field goal attempts.
Of the Panthers’ 92 points, 81 came from the paint and behind the 3-point line and Jacobson said it’s simply a product of getting their offense to where it’s supposed to be.
“We’re playing exactly the way that we’re built for and that we want to play,” Jacobson said of the last two games. “We’ve got tremendous 3-point shooting on this team. The thing that’s different is we aren’t taking as many quick (3s). We’re passing some (3s) down (and) attacking some closeouts.”
UNI travels to Missouri State (11-5, 2-1) Saturday for a 5 p.m. tipoff at JQH Arena.