CEDAR FALLS — A career-high 35 points from AJ Green pushed Northern Iowa past Bradley in its Missouri Valley Conference home opener Saturday night at McLeod Center, 69-64.
Clinging to a three-point lead with 15 seconds remaining, Elijah Childs’ 3-point attempt missed long and Green sealed the win for UNI (12-2, 1-1) with a pair of free throws.
“This is everything I dreamed of when I wanted to come to UNI,” Green said. “Being at the games when I was younger — when (Seth Tuttle) played here — (the) 2010 team always had the arena filled, so to get it back like that tonight with all the fans showing their support is great.”
After starting 2-for-13 from the field, the Panthers overcame a 12-point first-half deficit to take a 34-32 lead into halftime. UNI and Bradley (10-5, 1-1) traded leads eight times in the second half as the Panthers got defensive stops they needed to hold off the Braves for their first conference win.
“That was good to see,” Jacobson said. “The first 10 minutes of the game that was as mad and animated as I’ve been all year in a timeout. They were kicking us on offense. It got better at the end of the first half, but really good to see us get some stops when we needed to.”
Along with Green’s 35 points, Tywhon Pickford — who started for an injured Spencer Haldeman (ankle) — corralled 16 rebounds. Austin Phyfe joined Green in double figures with 10, but the night belonged to Green in front of a season-high 4,269 fans.
The former Cedar Falls standout routinely overmatched Bradley’s Danya Kingsby and Darrell Brown in isolation sets the final 12 minutes of the game, as he scored 22 of his 35 points in the second half.
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“He’s ready every night,” Jacobson said. “That doesn’t mean that he plays great every night, he’s made some mistakes and he’s had some tough games in the year and a half, but he’s ready every night. I would say he was probably a little more ready tonight. He holds on to anything that’s going to be motivating. I’m sure that was part of it for him."
Green’s extra readiness comes from UNI’s MVC Tournament Championship game loss to the Braves last season when the Panthers gave up an 18-point lead to lose an NCAA Tournament berth.
The usually soft-spoken Green didn’t hesitate when asked if the win over the Braves was extra satisfying.
“Yeah, for sure,” Green admitted with a smile.