CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s offense had been the lead culprit when it came to its up-and-down Missouri Valley Conference season. Wednesday night at McLeod Center, the Panthers’ offense exploded in the first half, scoring 41 points on the strength of a 25-0 run that left Illinois State searching for answers after an 83-72 final.
Illinois State’s offense went extinct for nine minutes and 37 seconds while the Panthers (11-10, 3-6) were on their run. The Redbirds (10-11, 4-5) committed 10 turnovers and missed 13 shots while the Panthers took a 15-14 lead at the 11:58 mark and turned it into a 41-19 advantage at halftime.
“There isn’t any way as a player or a coaching staff that you can say ‘hey let’s jump out there and let’s play well and let’s get the lead,’” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “But coming off of Sunday when we just didn’t have a very good bounce in our step, to be able to get out tonight and to really get going, not only was it good but it was fun to see.”
Isaiah Brown led the way for UNI with 16 first-half points. The sophomore guard hit four 3-pointers, grabbed four rebounds, and blocked two shots in what was his most productive half as a Panther.
“Coach can’t stress enough for me to shoot with confidence,” Brown said after scoring a team-leading 20 points. “I was kind of struggling against (Southern Illinois). If I don’t shoot it, it won’t go in. So (Coach) can’t stress enough for me to shoot with confidence.”
Amid its run, UNI’s Juwan McCloud played his best floor game as a Panther. The sophomore point guard finished the first half with six assists, one turnover, and four points. He finished the game tying two McLeod Center records for assists in a game (9) and steals in a game (6).
“His play with the ball in his hands — he found a lot of guys,” Jacobson said. “He worked in transition to find guys. He continued to do a good job off the ball-screen to find guys. Really had a great game tonight.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Jacobson utilized an extended rotation in the first half and throughout the game, getting 10 players on the floor within the first seven minutes. He said he’d like to continue that going forward.
“We’re going to keep (that rotation),” Jacobson said. “(It was) a little bit matchup-based. Illinois State with (Phil) Fayne (6-foot-9) at the power forward spot and (Daouda) Ndiaye (7-foot-0) at center. So they’ve got two bigger guys on the floor. Klint (Carlson) needs to be off the floor some. What I’ve realized is we can’t play him 35 minutes. He’s not able to play as hard as he needs to play. Teddy (Friedman) earned the right to be out there with his practice habits and Hunter’s a good changeup at that point guard spot.”
Leading by 22 to open the second half, UNI was able to recreate some of its first-half success by maintaining a better pace of play than what’s been the norm during conference play. A 13-1 run by Illinois State late in the second half shrunk UNI’s lead to as little as 12, while Keyshawn Evans’ layup in the final moments made the final 11-point margin.