CEDAR FALLS — Despite 25 misses from behind the 3-point line, Northern Iowa’s trademark stingy defense outlasted Old Dominion for a 58-53 season-opening win Tuesday night at McLeod Center.
With 2:27 remaining and UNI enduring another cold stretch of offense, Spencer Haldeman’s post-entry pass for Austin Phyfe was stolen by Malik Curry, who found Marquis Godwin in transition for 3 to trim the Panthers’ lead to two.
After a UNI timeout, Old Dominion missed five of its last six shots in the game’s final two minutes, including back-to-back 3-point attempts from Godwin with only seconds remaining.
Trae Berhow — who finished with seven points and six rebounds — corralled his most important rebound of the game despite being fouled by Jason Wade after Godwin’s second miss and iced the game with two free throws.
“The defensive effort was terrific,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “They’re closed scrimmages so nobody gets to see them, but the way we defended and played 2 1/2 weeks ago in our first scrimmage was nowhere near what we felt like we should be. Tonight, again, in the halfcourt we defended their actions well.”
UNI mustered its only significant run of the game, an 8-0 burst, while clinging to a 33-30 lead with 14:32 remaining. Spencer Haldeman — who finished with 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting — hit back-to-back 3s during the run and Isaiah Brown capped it with a layup off a Tywhon Pickford steal and assist.
Old Dominion — Conference USA’s 2018-19 champion — struggled offensively, much like UNI. The Monarchs shot only 35 percent and committed 14 turnovers.
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“They did a great job of scouting us,” Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones said. “But, at the same time we didn’t really help ourselves.”
While the Panthers missed more 3s than they made field goals guard AJ Green — who scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds — said there were never any plans to stop shooting from distance.
“I think most of it just came down to us not knocking down a few shots,” Green said. “In the first half if we’d made three or four more 3s — I mean, they’re all good looks (and) coach (Jacobson) is telling us to shoot them — we make those, it’s a different ballgame.”
UNI freshmen Noah Carter, James Betz and Antwan Kimmons played nine, six and three minutes respectively in the win, but all in the first half.
“Yeah, we like those guys,” Jacobson said. “I think we were all able to see why.”
UNI travels to Northern Illinois for a 3 p.m. tip Saturday.