CEDAR FALLS — Late heroics from Spencer Haldeman and a 13-1 run sparked by Isaiah Brown helped Northern Iowa overcome a 10-point deficit and defeat Evansville 81-74 Saturday night at McLeod Center.
“What I like most about tonight is we finally stood up to that challenge and matched their physical play with some physical play of our own defensively,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said.
After the Panthers’ (9-12, 4-4) scoring run gave them a five-point lead with 7:26 to play, Evansville (9-12, 3-5) tied the game at 58 less than a minute later, but fell victim to a five-point swing after Shamar Givance was issued a technical foul for elbowing Haldeman on a drive to the basket.
Haldeman — who scored a career-high 24 points — hit both free throws and sunk his third of four 3-pointers after the technical. The junior guard scored eight of UNI’s final 15 on the way to 21 second-half points.
“Hard to say which one of the two (stretches) was more important, (but) Isaiah’s may have been because we had to get back in the game,” Jacobson said. “He was involved in those plays that cut the lead and got us back in the basketball game, and then (Spencer) was doing a lot of it, but I also thought Trae (Berhow) just kind of quietly put together a heck of a night.”
A 17-2 Evansville run bookended halftime, putting the Panthers behind by 10 with 18:53 to play, but double-figure scoring efforts from Haldeman, Berhow (19 points), Brown (12) and Luke McDonnell (10) were too much for the Purple Aces to overcome.
UNI grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the second half and shot 28 free throws in a game that Jacobson says was their “best response” of the season.
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“We were down nine and if we don’t respond to the physical challenge tonight when we’re down nine, then this one gets away from us,” Jacobson said. “No question, this is the best response this group has shown and that’s important.”
John Hall led Evansville with a game-high 21 points, while KJ Riley and Marty Hill joined him in double figures with 19 and 14 respectively.
Former Iowa coach Todd Lickliter filled in for suspended Aces head coach Walter McCarty.
Northern Iowa travels to Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. tip (NBCS Chicago).