CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa dropped its second consecutive Missouri Valley Conference game Tuesday night, 70-69 to Illinois State. Along with a one-point loss was the loss of senior guard Miles Wentzien to a knee injury.
Wentzien, who began the season out of the rotation and became a starter, injured his knee in the first half of Tuesday’s loss to the Redbirds. It was later revealed the senior tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.
“When it happens to somebody who has put so much into making this happen, it’s just really, really hard,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said in a news release. “The reason he got into the starting lineup is because of how hard he worked and how much time he put in outside of practice. I told him he doesn’t have to go through the process of getting healthy while wishing he would have worked harder, because he did everything right. We’ll do all we can to make sure he understands just how much we respect and love him, and everything he stands for.”
On the heels of Wentzien’s injury and two straight conference losses here, are three keys to a UNI (6-10, 1-2) win vs. Drake (12-4, 1-2) Sunday at McLeod Center.
1. Tywhon Pickford steps in and steps up
Tywhon Pickford received extended minutes after the loss of Wenztien in the first half of Tuesday’s game and recorded season-highs in points (11), assists (4) and steals (2) in the loss to the Redbirds. After averaging 9.1 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game last season, the sophomore has struggled to produce after an off-season ankle fracture kept him out of training for five months. Now, four months after his return, Pickford seems to be poised for a return to form after his performance on Tuesday.
Jacobson’s most recent comments on Pickford indicated that he’s still not 100 percent, but considering the Panthers’ injuries, the importance of Pickford getting back to providing numbers near his freshman season is all the more critical.
2. Spencer Haldeman busts his slump
Along with a reemergence from Pickford, the Panthers would benefit immensely from Spencer Haldeman busting out of what’s become the worst shooting slump of his career.
Over his past nine games Haldeman is 3 for 31 (9 percent) from behind the arc.
To his credit, the junior has found other ways to contribute during his shooting struggles, but UNI cannot afford for one of its best shooters to be mired in a slump for much longer, especially after the loss of Wentzien.
3. Attack the basket
After losing their MVC home opener 58-51 to Southern Illinois, both AJ Green and Trae Berhow said they were pleased with the offensive looks they got in the game’s final minutes, but admitted they should have driven to the basket more.
UNI’s lack of drives hasn’t been exclusive to the SIU loss.
Before his injury, Wentzien had proven most adept at getting to the hoop off the dribble. A stubborn effort by Green, Berhow and others to drive to the basket will be magnified after the loss of Wentzien.
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