CEDAR FALLS — Efficient offense, a plus-10 rebounding advantage and costly, sharp tongues from Marshall’s bench pushed Northern Iowa on Sunday.
The Panthers rolled past the Thundering Herd, 88-80, at the McLeod Center.
With a 41-38 lead at halftime, UNI’s offense found another gear in the first seven minutes of the second half, going on a 22-5 run and pushing its lead to a game-high 19 points with 12:54 to play.
“The handful of things I would point to (offensively) is having a group of guys that know each other,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “Having a group of guys that are extremely coachable. A group of guys that when we’re in a film session they’ve got their notebooks and they’re taking notes and they take it to the practice floor and then take it from the practice floor to the game floor.
“Then the presence inside. That presence inside with Austin (Phyfe) and (Justin Dahl) right now is a big deal.”
The Panthers efficient offense included AJ Green (24 points), Trae Berhow (23), Spencer Haldeman (13), Isaiah Brown (12) and Justin Dahl (10) in double figures while shooting 50 percent (9-18) from long distance.
Green and Jacobson said the offensive performance against The Herd was as good or better than their 82-58 win over Grand Canyon last week.
“Our pace has been good,” Jacobson said. “I thought at Grand Canyon our pace really hurt them (by) being able to get it into the frontcourt and get right (into) some actions. With 18 turnovers to still hit the number that we hit — may be in terms of points per possession — may be the best 40 minutes that we’ve had.
“If we take care of it we had a great chance to get out ahead (by) 20.”
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During the Panthers quick second half start, a foul call on Phyfe just over a minute into the half led to a Marshall (5-7) assistant being assessed a technical. Then, less than a minute later, Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni received a technical.
Five minutes later, with UNI (11-1) ahead 64-47, D’Antoni was issued his second technical and walked to the locker room without protest.
Green made all six technical free throws — which loomed large when The Herd got back within seven with 6:33 to play.
“I say the main thing is we’ve all put a lot of extra time in the gym and we’re all playing with confidence on the offensive end,” Brown said. “On the defensive end we’re just playing great team defense.”
That confidence Brown described helped UNI push back against Marshall’s attempt at a late comeback. Green hit a contested jumper with 3:04 to play and Berhow quickly followed with his fourth and final 3 of the game to put the Panthers comfortably back in front by 10.
“Those plays with AJ and Trae, again, we’re talking about guys in their second year,” Jacobson said. “A year ago, especially in the first 2-1/2-three months, I don’t know that all those dots would have connected.”
UNI travels to Normal on Dec. 31 for its Missouri Valley Conference opener against Illinois State (5-6). Tip-off is at 2 p.m. (ESPN+).