CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa came up short in its bid to start Missouri Valley Conference play 2-0, falling to Southern Illinois 58-51 at McLeod Center on Saturday night.
Trailing by five with just over 12 minutes to play, the Salukis used a 9-1 run to gain a lead they didn’t relinquish. UNI tied the game at 42 on a Trae Berhow 3-pointer with 7:14 to play, but SIU responded with a 6-0 run.
AJ Green — who finished with a team-high 16 points — brought the Panthers (6-9, 1-1) within one with a pair of free throws at 1:54, but late free throws from Kavion Pippen, Aaron Cook and Marcus Bartley secured the win for the Salukis (9-6, 2-0).
“(Southern Illinois) made plays at both ends,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “I talked to the guys about this. You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. You’ve got to make a couple of plays. Whatever the situation might have been, they made a couple more plays than we did the last 3 1/2 minutes.”
Jacobson pointed out a particular stretch of the game during a 9-1 second-half run by Southern Illinois that he says cost his team the game.
“We had an either eight or nine-possession stretch — we were up 38-35 (and) by the time it was done, it was 48-42. And that stretch of nine or (so) possessions, we had four turnovers and I think we might’ve missed three 3s in that stretch of nine or 10 possessions,” Jacobson said. “We turned it over 12 times for the game but I think four of them came in that stretch.”
After a surprising 65-47 win on Wednesday against Bradley in its conference opener, UNI looked poised to start Valley play 2-0 for the first time in nearly a decade (2009-2010), leading by five with 13 minutes to play. After the game, Green and Berhow said they got the shots they wanted down the stretch but wish they would have driven to the basket more. Miles Wentzien — who grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds (six offensive) — added that he thinks the team has taken a step forward with its defense and togetherness this past week despite Saturday night’s loss.
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“I definitely think we’re starting to come together and understand where each other are going to be at, and I think we’re playing a lot harder too and I think that helps,” Wentzien said. “But, at the end of the day, we just gotta make the plays when they matter.”
Northern Iowa visits Normal, Ill., Tuesday to take on Illinois State (8-7, 1-1) at 7 p.m. (NBCS Chicago).
Austin Phyfe out for season
Jacobson updated the status of sophomore forward Austin Phyfe, who’s only appeared in seven games this season after suffering from symptoms of vasovagal syncope.
“We won’t see Phyfe again,” Jacobson said. “So we’ll put in for the (medical) redshirt. He’s doing okay the last couple days, but it hasn’t changed a lot since we got back from (Old Dominion).”