CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa outlasted Valparaiso 88-78 in a back-and-forth Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball thriller Wednesday night at McLeod Center.
Trailing at halftime for the first time all season, UNI (15-2, 4-1) put a sloppy 20 minutes that included 10 turnovers behind it and regained the lead with a 17-0 run to begin the second half.
“We all knew coming out of halftime that we were going to have to bring it,” UNI guard AJ Green said. “We kind of got loose on offense a little bit. (Isaiah Brown) played really well. Trae (Berhow) hit some big shots (and) so did Spencer (Haldeman). (Austin) Phyfe played good. It was just a collective effort to start the second half on both ends of the floor.”
While Green showered praise on his teammates for the Panthers’ 17-0 outburst, he supplied 10 of those points with eight coming in an impressive 83-second span.
“It’s a great time (during the run) just knowing AJ (is) our best scorer on the team and knowing he’s capable of doing things like that,” Phyfe said. “So just being a part of it and just kind of knowing at that point when he was going on a little run by himself just to keep working on the defensive end. Once we get to the offensive end, do what we can do but let him stay hot and let him get loose.”
As it did in the first half, Valparaiso (9-9, 2-3) mustered a counter to UNI’s run with a 10-2 spurt of its own to get within 65-64 with 8:20 remaining. During the Crusaders’ run, UNI again encountered a sloppy stretch of offense that included three turnovers in a span of six minutes.
“Give Valpo a lot of credit,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “They’ve got a really good team, number one. Their length and athleticism, that part of it is important to creating some of those turnovers, but their anticipation and their feel for the game — that combination of things and the number of guys that can play the defensive end and how active they are, that really bothered us.”
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Green’s 29 points bested Valpo guard Javon Freeman-Liberty’s 28. Freeman-Liberty entered Wednesday night’s game averaging a Valley-best 20.5 points per game while Green was a spot behind at 18.8.
Brown, Phyfe, Berhow and Haldeman joined Green in double figures with 16, 15, 13 and 11 points respectively.
UNI travels to Peoria, Ill., Saturday to take on Bradley (13-5, 4-1) at 5 p.m. (ESPN2).