CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa flipped the script Monday night against Missouri State, running past the Bears, 85-75.
After losing to the Bears (4-1, 1-1) by 20 a day prior, the Panthers (2-5, 1-1) began this game on a 16-0 run, made 11 of their first 14 field goals and held the Bears scoreless the first 6:33.
UNI built a 26-point lead (37-11) with 7:12 to play in the first half. Meanwhile, coach Ben Jacobson once again used a 10-player rotation and each of those 10 Panthers had a point by halftime.
“One of the things we’ve needed to do a better job of is get (Austin) Phyfe some touches and he touched the ball more tonight,” Jacobson said. “Guys turned down some shots so that we gave the offense an opportunity to work long enough to get it into his hands. Then, some possessions where maybe it didn’t end up with Phyfe, but, we attacked some closeouts and put the ball in the paint one or two times before we shot it.”
The Bears began to battle back before the end of the first half, answering with a 17-4 run to trim their deficit to 13 at halftime.
Missouri State put together another run after the half, scoring 10 unanswered and trimming UNI’s lead to 45-40 with 16 minutes to play.
“This was the best feel (game) throughout the 40 minutes,” Jacobson said. “That allowed us when the (lead) got under 10 to fight back and have two good possessions. Maybe get two stops and score twice. There was a better togetherness tonight and that’s a good step forward for our team.”
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The Panthers’ offensive efficiency kept the Bears routinely behind by double-digits. After shooting just 33 percent the day before, UNI shot 52 percent from the field and made seven 3-pointers.
Austin Phyfe led all scorers with 21 points while freshman guard Nate Heise scored a career-high 15. Noah Carter (13), Trae Berhow (12) and Bowen Born (11) joined the pair in double figures.
“(Balance) is something that will be important for this team,” Jacobson said. “Guys getting adjusted to what they need to do for the puzzle pieces to fit right.”
Sophomore forward Cole Henry also impacted the game, combining with Phyfe to keep Bears forward Gaige Prim from dominating as he did the night before. Henry also performed well at the point-center spot, dishing out a pair of flashy assists and accumulating a career-high 11 minutes.
“His best game,” Jacobson said. “Felt like offensively we had great pace to start, and Cole is a guy at that center spot that can keep that pace up, and in some ways he can increase it with his ability to handle and pass the basketball.”
UNI’s win is its first this season against a Division-I opponent and first since Dec. 4 against St. Ambrose.
The Panthers travel to Evansville (3-5, 1-1) for their next back-to-back Valley series, tipping off at 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.