CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa men’s basketball continues to show more inside the friendly confines of McLeod Center than it has all season on the road, defeating Evansville 47-41 Tuesday night.
The Panthers made use of offense early and defense late to grab their fifth MVC win in 15 tries. With just under three minutes to go in the first half, the Panthers trailed Evansville 23-20 after Ryan Taylor got two of his game-high 26 points. After Taylor’s jump shot, UNI went on a 10-0 run to close out the first half, capped by a buzzer-beating floater by Klint Carlson to take a 30-23 lead into the break.
“The thing that I liked is we stayed aggressive,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “I thought we had good possessions. Our execution and the purpose and understanding of what we wanted to do was good.”
After halftime, UNI extended its lead to 15, utilizing a balanced scoring effort that was led by Hunter Rhodes’ team-high 12 points. Rhodes made his first career start in place of an injured Juwan McCloud, who is suffering from a stiff back but is likely to return to the lineup Saturday against Illinois State.
“I thought (Hunter) played great,” Jacobson said. “He’s practiced well. He’s got that bounce in his step and he’s got that confidence about him that helps him play well. I think it helps our guys the way he moves around, and his ability to rise up and knock in some shots.”
As soon as UNI (13-14, 5-10 MVC) extended its lead to 15, its offense all but disappeared. The Panthers’ second half scoring drought totaled 9 minutes, 13 seconds, while its field goal drought covered the last 10:16 of the game.
Evansville (16-12, 6-9) went on a 14-0 run during UNI’s offensive disappearance, shrinking the gap to two with 2:08 left after Ryan Taylor’s fourth 3 of the evening. However, UNI’s defensive adjustments since the two teams last met, along with a key decision to trap Taylor in a high-ball screen action in the final minute left kept the Purple Aces from pulling off a comeback.
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“At their place we didn’t switch any of the screens off the ball (and) tonight we were switching with our guys in the middle of the lineup,” Jacobson said. “The thing (switching) did though, it shortened those possessions. So as it got later, instead of the guy getting the ball with 11 seconds the guy was getting it with six, and they were having a hard time finding Taylor sometimes because of the switches we were making.
“I thought the last three possessions, maybe give or take one of them, that we defended them well. They hit a couple (big 3s). We drug Taylor out and trapped him and that took some valuable seconds off the clock on that possession.”
Northern Iowa travels to Peoria, Ill., on Saturday for a 5 p.m. tip against Illinois State (14-12, 8-6) on ESPN2.