CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team is still searching for the best way to attack opponents in the aftermath of AJ Green’s season-ending hip injury and Antwan Kimmons’ personal leave.
The loss of those two experienced guards has thrust freshmen Bowen Born and Nate Heise into UNI’s starting lineup, and consequently confronted the duo with a level of responsibility usually reserved for upperclassmen.
Coach Ben Jacobson said this week he’s been pleased with the development of his freshman guards, especially their ability to evaluate film, accept criticism and apply it quickly given the Missouri Valley Conference’s back-to-back scheduling this season due to COVID-19.
“I think we saw it in the Missouri State series — game 1 to game 2 — how much better they felt. How much more confident they felt in game 2,” Jacobson said. “We were able to get some easier shots because of the way those two guys played and the adjustments they made from game 1 to game 2. I think we’re going to see a lot of that.”
Jacobson stressed that it’ll take time for his freshmen to develop consistency as they battle against veteran guards in the MVC, but said he expects it won’t be long before the two can be at their best for game 1 of each series.
Along with Born and Heise, Jacobson’s rotation has included as many as five others who are either newcomers or only played limited minutes a season ago. Looking back at this past weekend, when the Panthers (2-7, 1-3) were swept by Evansville (5-5, 3-1), Jacobson explained it wasn’t anything complicated that kept them out of the win column.
“They were better fundamentally than we were,” Jacobson said. “They stayed in front of the dribble more often than we did. They made fewer mistakes than we did defensively. They executed and got deeper into the shot clock and into some possessions at the offensive end. So, as I watch both of those games, it still comes back to what you’re doing fundamentally.”
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UNI’s next MVC series is against Bradley (6-3), which hasn’t played an MVC game yet due to postponements. The Braves — picked third in the MVC preseason poll — last played on Dec. 22, a 54-53 loss to Missouri.
Sunday and Monday’s games are highlighted by the matchup between all-conference forwards Austin Phyfe and Elijah Childs. Childs, a senior, leads the Braves in scoring, averaging 14.4 points per game.
“He’s as good a player as we’ve got in our league,” Jacobson said. “He’s active. He gets to the glass on both ends of the floor. He puts a lot of pressure on you because he plays so hard. He’s extended his range and he’s really comfortable shooting the ball from the perimeter right now. He’s made himself a complete player at the offensive end. He’s going to be — like he’s been — he’s going to be a challenge for us Sunday and Monday.”