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UNI plays one of its best halves of the season in 77-66 win over Valparaiso
Panthers build 17-point halftime lead, improve to 8-3 in MVC
CEDAR FALLS — A dominant first half sent Northern Iowa past Valparaiso in men’s basketball Wednesday night at McLeod Center, 77-66.
Shortly after a one-handed Cole Henry dunk the Panthers (12-9, 8-3) began the first of their two first-half scoring runs.
Jump started by five points from Michael Duax and an assist by the redshirt freshman, Valparaiso called timeout, but the outburst continued with a James Betz layup, two free throws from Duax and a Bowen Born layup for an early 26-17 lead.
“Our guards were doing a great job of hitting the bigs, and then the bigs were doing a great job of stopping and picking (them) apart on the backside,” Born said. “It was definitely, probably, our best half just in terms of finding the right play, always looking for the roll guy, if the roll guy was taken (then) finding the next guy.”
With eight minutes remaining in the half, Born shot the Beacons out of their switch to a zone defense with back-to-back 3s that pushed UNI’s lead to double digits. Born’s second triple also sparked the Panthers’ second scoring run of the half, as a pair of Trey Campbell free throws, a contested Tytan Anderson layup and a third 3 from the sophomore guard made it a 10-0 run and 45-28 halftime lead.
“That was, if not our best 20 minutes, close to it,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said of the first half. “We were able to get the defensive stops which can get us into the open floor a little bit and that’s where we feel like we play our best. The floor just opens up a little for us. In a lot of ways that’s probably the difference in the game, that last six, seven minutes of the first half.”
Trailing by 17 to begin the second half, Valparaiso (9-13, 3-8) shrunk the Panthers’ lead to nine half’s first six minutes. Less than four minutes later, Connor Barrett’s left-wing 3 got the Beacons within two possessions at 55-50.
Adding to his candidacy for Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, Born sparked yet another UNI run, hitting a step-back 3 that shook Barrett and put the Panthers back in front by eight.
Duax amplified the run when Betz dove for a loose ball and passed to Campbell, who passed ahead to the redshirt freshman for a fastbreak dunk and 12-point lead that effectively sealed the win.
“Loose ball — that’s something that we all pride ourselves in and that’s something that our program cares a lot about,” Born said. “Obviously Mike with the big-time dunk, and again, it’s just all about the energy. It feels like the last couple games we’ve just always had a couple plays where they’re big momentum shifts. Just finding ways to win in those little moments.”
Born led UNI with 18 points. Anderson recorded his ninth double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Duax, Betz and Campbell also reached double-figures, scoring 15, 12 and 10 respectively.
UNI travels to Indiana State (13-9, 6-5) Saturday for a noon (CT) tipoff at Hulman Center (ESPN3).