CEDAR FALLS — Whether in the final moments of games, or more recently in the first 38 minutes, Northern Iowa has been a case study this season in how small the margin for error is in a parity-ridden Missouri Valley Conference.
“Up until the last two (games) it really was about executing some things at both ends late in the game,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “The last two (games) we needed to play better in the first 38 minutes.”
With only six MVC games remaining before the conference tournament, every matchup is as scouted as it gets. In light of opponents knowing each other so well and his team coming so close in all of its conference games, Jacobson admitted that he spent much of Saturday’s ride home from Des Moines contemplating whether or not adjustments were needed defensively.
“Were there points in that (Drake) game where we needed to play some zone?,” Jacobson said. “Do we need another way to defend the post (because) teams have seen it? I thought a lot about it until I went back and watched the film. Had we done what we’re supposed to do on the defensive end on six to eight possessions we would’ve been fine.”
While wide-ranging defensive adjustments are unlikely, Jacobson did acknowledge that UNI will continue to practice secondary defenses while also addressing a troublesome number of points in the paint the Panthers allowed in their losses last week to Drake and Bradley. UNI allowed a 75-40 combined advantage to the Braves and Bulldogs in the paint.
“Too many (defensive) breakdowns in both games,” Jacobson said. “Had we done the job on the possessions in transition or with the ball-screen, had we done the job there, McGlynn’s (22 points) would’ve been fine. We haven’t done the job in the last two games defending the ball, staying in front of the ball, defending the ball-screen. Bradley and Drake drove it at us and we didn’t do much about it.”
The Panthers are in control of their ability to avoid the opening round of the MVC tournament so as four of their final six games come against teams ahead of them in the standings.
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Up next for UNI is a 7 p.m. Wednesday night game in Cedar Falls against second-place Illinois State (14-11, 7-5).
UNI fought back from a 10-point second half deficit in the first meeting before losing 70-69.
“(Illinois State) has played their best here in the last five games,” Jacobson said. “They’ve settled into their roles, it appears. They had some injuries and they had to get some things kind of worked out, in the last five games it appears they’ve done that.”
The Redbirds boast one of the MVC’s most talented rosters on an annual basis, and this season is no different. Illinois State standouts Malik Yarbrough and Phil Fayne proved too much to handle for the Panthers on their way to 23 and 19 points, respectively, on Jan. 8.
“We didn’t do a good enough job with Fayne and with Yarbrough,” Jacobson said. “Those guys, not only did they put up big numbers, it didn’t take them a lot of possessions or a lot of shots to get there. We’re going to have to do a better job on those guys.”