CEDAR FALLS — With only minutes to play Saturday afternoon at a sold-out McLeod Center, it looked as though Drake was poised to play spoiler to Northern Iowa.
Then AJ Green happened.
Trailing 68-63, Green made the fifth of his six 3s to bring UNI within a possession with 5:09 to play. The Missouri Valley Conference’s leading scorer followed with a tough jump shot. Then, Green’s sixth and final 3 that put the Panthers in front, 71-68 with just over three minutes to play. What followed was the biggest display of emotion of the sophomore’s career.
A pair of Trae Berhow free throws and a long 3 at the end of the shot clock by Spencer Haldeman gave UNI extra separation with 1:36 to play, and Drake’s late fouls weren’t enough as the Panthers held on for an 83-73 win.
“What a heck of a game we just saw,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “There were times in the second half, probably from the 10-minute mark down to the four- (or) five-minute mark, where I found myself enjoying what was going on. To say Drake played great would probably do an injustice. They’ve got a really great team. We hung in there when we had to and AJ was special. It was really, really special.”
During Green’s outburst within the 13-0 run the Panthers (21-3, 10-2) used to regain the lead a final time, Drake (16-9, 6-6) missed five consecutive shots. Bulldogs coach Darian DeVries — who had four of his starters score in double figures — showered praise on Green after the loss.
“AJ took over the game,” DeVries said. “AJ is a good player for a reason. He made some really tough shots tonight. He was just a little better than we were tonight. That second half he was as good as it gets.”
A seesaw first half ended 39-35 in favor of the Bulldogs. Drake sophomore center Liam Robbins made things especially difficult on the Panthers in the first half, scoring 13 of his 17 points.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“We had to do a better job (in the second half) with (Roman) Penn and Robbins,” Jacobson said. “They had the basketball too deep. I thought (Austin) Phyfe and (Justin Dahl) both did a better job of forcing Robbins to catch it farther away from the basket. I think (Robbins) is one of the most improved players in the country.”
Green first got going by scoring 10 of the Panthers’ first 16 second-half points. The Cedar Falls native racked up 34 points and was joined in double figures by Berhow (18) and Haldeman (12). After another close, competitive game with the Bulldogs, Green didn’t hesitate to call the matchup a rivalry.
“Yeah, I think for sure it does now,” Green said. “Last year we had some great games with them. They’re a great team.”
Now with 21 wins and after weeks of receiving votes in Associated Press’ Top 25 poll, Jacobson wrapped up his postgame comments with a wish.
“I do pay attention to (the rankings),” Jacobson said. “I hope that we crack the Top 25 this week. It isn’t going to change the way we go about anything from our standpoint, but you’re darn right, I hope we’re in there on Monday.”
UNI hosts Illinois State (7-16, 2-9) Wednesday at 7 p.m. (ESPN+).