CEDAR FALLS — While it didn’t replicate Sunday’s 110-point performance, the Northern Iowa men’s basketball team cruised to an 82-63 victory over Upper Iowa in its second and final exhibition game Thursday.
UNI struggled to hit shots in the first half, shooting 27 percent (4-15) from 3-point range. After breaking out with 74 first-half points against Wartburg on Sunday, the Panthers used their defense to get out to a 20-point lead against Upper Iowa at the break.
“The thing I liked the most is we spent quite a bit of time talking about our defense and wanting to take a step forward from the second half Sunday to starting this game tonight and we did,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said.
With his teammates struggling to score consistently, A.J. Green shouldered much of the load. The freshman phenom scored 13 first-half points — 27 in the game — and prevented UNI’s offense from entering any prolonged lulls. However, it was by no means a perfect performance from Green. After posting a 7:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his exhibition opener, Green wasn’t quite as sharp with his decision-making Thursday night, committing four turnovers while dishing out only one assist.
“(Upper Iowa) maybe defended a couple things a little bit different,” Jacobson said. “A very good learning experience for (A.J.). He’s got the go-ahead to play the way he sees things happen on each possession. He’s going to make a lot more good plays than he doesn’t.”
Upper Iowa made things interesting for much of the game’s final 20 minutes, trimming the Panthers’ lead to 11 with just over seven minutes to play. The Peacocks shot 47 percent in the second half and routinely got to the basket.
“They went to an action driving it on a ball-screen to the outside and we didn’t adjust our defense until the timeout,” Jacobson said. “The other thing I talked to the guys about is (Upper Iowa) played a little different. They drove it harder. I didn’t feel like we adjusted to that soon enough. A good opportunity for our guys to learn.”
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UNI thwarted the Upper Iowa run, converting six of its last eight field goal attempts before benching its starters with just over two minutes to play. Trae Berhow recorded a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds while Wyatt Lohaus added 16.
UNI opens the regular season Tuesday, when it plays host to Bemidji State. Tip is set for 7 p.m. at McLeod Center.
“We’re getting there,” Jacobson said of his team’s preparedness for the regular season. “We’ve got so many things to learn. We’re getting there.”
After the game Jacobson said injured guard Tywhon Pickford (stress fracture) has participated without limitations in individual workouts the past two days and is on pace to return to practice next week. Jacobson would not commit to Pickford’s availability for Tuesday’s regular-season opener until he participates in live team drills at practice.
Austin Phyfe remains out indefinitely with symptoms similar to that of vasovagal syncope, but Jacobson said the sophomore now has “a better handle on what he’s dealing with and feels like he can get back to some activity now.”