UNI Panthers

4 keys for UNI men's basketball in second half of MVC schedule

Panthers host Missouri State on Saturday

Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson speaks to Northern Iowa Panthers guards AJ Green (4) and Trae Berhow (11) during the first half of a game at McLeod Center in Cedar Falls on Sunday, January 13, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson speaks to Northern Iowa Panthers guards AJ Green (4) and Trae Berhow (11) during the first half of a game at McLeod Center in Cedar Falls on Sunday, January 13, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — After its 61-60 loss to first-place Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday, Northern Iowa still is just three games out of first in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Panthers (9-13, 4-5) have shown an ability to compete with the MVC’s most talented men’s basketball teams, holding second-half leads in eight of their nine conference games.

With nine games remaining to secure a coveted top-six seed in the MVC tournament in St. Louis, here are four things to know about UNI:

1. Second half adjustments

With the second half of conference play about to begin, MVC coaches and their staffs are forced to contemplate how many wrinkles to introduce and how much to double-down on what’s been good for them as a result of how well they scout one another.

“It’s got to be a great combination of the two things,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “We’ve got to continue to work hard to do the things that have been good for us. It’s that balance of keeping the right stuff and continuing to make it work and adding things that make sense.”

2. Ability to respond

Going back to its win over Indiana State on Jan. 16, Jacobson has repeatedly brought up his satisfaction with the Panthers’ ability to respond to opponents’ scoring runs. UNI overcame a 12-2 run in its win against the Sycamores, a 12-3 run by Valparaiso, getting within four with 2:39 to play, a 16-2 run by Southern Illinois to pull within three with 3:43 to play, a 12-2 run by Evansville in an 81-74 win and a 10-0 run by Loyola on Wednesday before ultimately losing by one.

3. McDonnell key to offense’s improvement

UNI’s base offense, which was new to the team this preseason, has improved the past few weeks and Luke McDonnell has been an integral part of that, according to Jacobson.

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“To make this (offense) work the player at that center position is so valuable,” Jacobson said. “(Luke) is real comfortable at that top of the key and real capable of doing what (he did) against Loyola where he makes three or four 3s in a game. He’s playing as good as he’s played all year.”

4. Missouri State

The Bears (11-11, 5-4), winners of three straight, visit McLeod Center on Saturday for a 7 p.m. tip (KCRG 9.2), and much like UNI, their roster entered the season without much experience but has begun to gel over the past few weeks.

“What stands out is how well they’ve controlled the pace of the game (with) their three-quarter court press back to a little zone that turns into man if the possession goes on,” Jacobson said. “And then offensively some false motion to start the possession into some really good actions.”

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