UNI Panthers

UNI men's basketball hangs on to beat pesky Illinois State in rematch

AJ Green surpasses 1,000 career points, Panthers win 71-63

Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa got its revenge Wednesday night at McLeod Center, defeating Illinois State 71-63.

As was the case in the teams’ first meeting of the season on New Year’s Eve — a game Illinois State won — the Redbirds (8-17, 3-10) hung with UNI throughout the 40 minutes and didn’t look anything like a team with eight wins in mid-February.

“We play in a great league,” UNI (22-3, 11-2) coach Ben Jacobson said. “Teams get better as the year goes on. Guys can really coach in this league. There’s good players. Guys don’t give up in this league.”

Illinois State led 31-22 with 9:02 to play in the first half and Jacobson responded with a defensive adjustment that sparked a run.

“That was the adjustment, was (Tywhon Pickford), the way that he played,” Jacobson said. “He sparked everything for us defensively. We were soft on the ball. We were standing there looking at them. They were shooting H-O-R-S-E shots. I give Illinois State a lot of credit, but really disappointed in myself for the way we played defensively to start that game.”

Pickford’s defense on Zach Copeland and Isaiah Brown’s on DJ Horne — who scored a team-high 16 points — pushed UNI to its first separation of the game. Illinois State missed 10 of its last 11 shots of the half while UNI went on an 18-2 to take a 40-33 lead into halftime.

“They did come out shooting it well, but we were giving them far too easy looks,” UNI guard AJ Green said. “I think after that first 12 minutes or so we did a much better job pressuring them and making (their) 3s contested.”

Panthers fans also got to witness history Wednesday night as Green became the first sophomore in school history to reach 1,000 career points. Green hit a turnaround, fadeaway jumper with 31 seconds left in the first half to reach 1,000.

“It’s one of those things that’s cool to have happen,” Green said. “I’m grateful to have gotten there, but without these guys — my teammates and coaches — truly, without them I wouldn’t be in that position. More importantly we got the win tonight and we’re playing well.”

Illinois State put together an 8-0 run early in the second half, pulling within a bucket at 53-51. UNI again responded, stretching its lead to as much as 12, as Green, again, played a key role in delivering a win with a game-high 27 points.

Trae Berhow recorded a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Austin Phyfe was also in double figures with 12 points.

After another hard-fought conference win Phyfe acknowledged that the Panthers feel they’re getting every team’s best effort, both physically and mentally.

“Those teams coming in having that mentality — this is one of their games that they mark on their schedule,” Phyfe said.

And for the mental side and trash talk?

“A little bit more. Depending on the person,” Phyfe said with a smile.

UNI travels to Loyola-Chicago (16-9, 8-4) Saturday for a 7 p.m. tip (ESPN2).

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