CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team was able to bounce back after an eight-loss nonconference with a 65-47 win in its Missouri Valley Conference opener Wednesday night at Bradley.
Southern Illinois — picked third in the MVC preseason poll — brings a balanced offense that has recently been without leading scorer Armon Fletcher (13.5 ppg) to McLeod Center at 7 p.m. Saturday. Despite injuries and suspension, the Salukis (8-6, 1-0) finished above .500 in nonconference and were able to open Valley play with a 75-70 win against Missouri State.
Here are three keys to a 2-0 MVC start for UNI (6-8, 0-1) vs. Southern Illinois, plus a viewing guide.
1. Defensive carryover
UNI’s defense that held Bradley to a season-low 47 points Wednesday night will need to show up again Saturday. The Salukis have four regulars that average more than 10 points per game (five if Fletcher returns from his indefinite suspension) and run much of their offense through forward Kavion Pippen (11.5 ppg).
The Panthers ‘performance Wednesday wasn’t their first low-scoring, defense-led win. In November at the Paradise Jam, UNI held Old Dominion (10-4, 0-1) to a season-low 53 points in a 1-point win.
Isaiah Brown’s return to the starting lineup Wednesday night ignited UNI’s defense. Brown held Braves leading scorer Darrell Brown (15.2 ppg) to a season-low 2 points and needs to continue being a defensive stalwart.
2. Third and fourth scorer
The loss of Austin Phyfe and slow start for Tywhon Pickford (3.9 ppg) nearly turned UNI’s offense completely upside-down. While fresman guard AJ Green was always anticipated to score in double-digits each game, Pickford and Phyfe were alongside Wyatt Lohaus when it came to expected top scorers.
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Brown, Spencer Haldeman and Shandon Goldman have all had flashes, but far too few to be counted upon. If the Panthers want to start conference play 2-0, they’ll need Berhow, Brown or someone else to establish themselves as a reliable option.
“We don’t need to take any opportunities away from Wyatt, AJ (or) Trae. Guys right now that are scoring for us and playing good offense,” Jacobson said. “(But) we’ve got to get some more guys involved. When you talk about Spencer, Isaiah, (Shandon), (Tywhon), we’ve just got to get some more guys involved.”
3. Offensive patience
Key three is connected to key one. As UNI’s defense continued to give Bradley fits, its offense regularly used 20 or more seconds of shot clock before attempting a shot.
Whether the reason be injuries, underperforming offense, something else, or all of the above it wouldn’t be a surprise to see UNI again be purposefully methodical on offense.
Given Southern Illinois’ scoring punch shrinking, the amount of possessions could be the best approach.
Watch, Listen Live
Time: 7 p.m. Saturday
TV: KCRG 9.2
Watch online: ESPN+
Radio: KGYM-AM 1600, KXEL-AM 1540
Listen online: Panthers Inside Access