CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa head men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson urged fans to come watch his 2018-19 team on media day, saying it would be a “fun” group to watch.
Sunday afternoon at McLeod Center, the “fun,” unofficially, began. UNI defeated Wartburg 110-69, scoring 74 points in a first half that featured 12 3-pointers and a 73-percent field goal percentage.
“We passed the ball very well,” Jacobson said. “(The) guys did a good job of running hard. For just getting started they’ve got a pretty good understanding of what they’re looking for. There’s a lot of work to do, once we get into the half court (offense), but what we did in transition, because we ran hard, because we passed the ball well, it put a lot of pressure on Wartburg.”
Sunday’s exhibition also marked the first time UNI fans were able to watch A.J. Green in a UNI jersey. The hometown product didn’t disappoint, scoring 16 points and dishing out seven assists. Green showed a little of everything in the decisive win and received high praise from his head coach postgame.
“I thought (A.J.) was great,” Jacobson said. “If there was any space he’s got his eyes up and he’s looking to get that (ball) up ahead. Then, with some of those half-court possessions, he can get his shot as he showed today.”
The Panthers lived up to Jacobson’s media day promise of a faster-paced offense. Guards regularly sought opportunities to leak out, creating a number of transition baskets. Green, Spencer Haldeman and Wyatt Lohaus all shared ball-handling duties, pushing the tempo.
“The unselfishness and the pace in which they’re playing at was good for the first time out,” Jacobson said.
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While UNI’s 74-point first half would have been a school-record performance had it not been an exhibition, the game itself wasn’t wart-free. Jacobson’s starters — Green, Lohaus, Isaiah Brown, Trae Berhow and Luke McDonnell — played considerable second-half minutes. After outscoring Wartburg by 37 in the first half, the Panthers outscored the Knights by only four in the second.
“When guys are brand new or when they don’t have a lot of game minutes under their belt on the defensive end and competitive rebounding situations, those are the two spots where youth usually shows up,” Jacobson said. “We’ve got a lot to learn at that end.”
Six Panthers scored in double-figures. Joining Green and Lohaus was Haldeman (16), Miles Wentzien (15), Shandon Goldman (14), and Brown (13). Berhow scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds in his debut.
UNI plays its final exhibition game Thursday at McLeod Center against Upper Iowa.
Austin Phyfe did not play against Wartburg and remains out with symptoms similar to that of vasovagal syncope. Jacobson said after Sunday’s exhibition that Phyfe has been out of practice and is continuing to work with multiple doctors on the curious condition. There is no timeline for Phyfe’s return.