UNI Panthers

UNI men's basketball returns to MVC play looking to show improvement

Panthers visit Southern Illinois for weekend series

Northern Iowa's Noah Carter (35) looks to pass as Drake's D.J. Wilkins defend during the second half of an NCAA college
Northern Iowa's Noah Carter (35) looks to pass as Drake's D.J. Wilkins defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Missouri Valley Conference men's tournament Friday, March 6, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

CEDAR FALLS — After a 10-point win over Division III Coe College on Monday, Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson explained how improvements his team had been making on the practice floor didn’t translate to the game floor.

So, with the Panthers resuming their Missouri Valley Conference schedule after nearly two weeks between games, Jacobson and his team know that can’t continue to be the case.

UNI (4-10, 2-6 MVC) visits Southern Illinois (7-5, 1-5) this weekend for a Saturday-Sunday series. The Salukis began the season as one of the MVC’s hottest teams, but have lost five straight since an 84-72 loss at home on Dec. 28 against Evansville.

“They were highly competitive again (against Indiana State),” Jacobson said. “No matter what the situation is, they’re going to fight you every possession.”

Jacobson and his staff still are fine-tuning how to best position some of their players to raise their game.

Sophomore forward Noah Carter — who scored a career-high 28 points in the Panthers’ season-opening loss to Western Kentucky — has made just eight 3-pointers in the 13 games since sinking a program-record nine in his outburst against the Hilltoppers.

“He found out in a hurry what happens when you make a bunch of shots or you have a good game. You move up the scouting report,” Jacobson said. “Really, it’s two things. Becoming more of a complete player. His ball-handling and passing to add to his ability to score, and then becoming a competitive guy at the defensive end. Like, you’ve got to guard somebody and you’ve got to block somebody out.”

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Tywhon Pickford, who missed Monday’s game against Coe with a groin injury, is expected back for this weekend’s series. Jacobson said Pickford was looking better in practice before suffering the injury.

“He had been working extremely hard and had gotten himself in much better shape. He had been practicing really well and been much more active here the last two weeks,” Jacobson said. “He tweaks his groin and he couldn’t play (Monday).”

Meanwhile, freshman guard Nate Heise has been among the most comfortable and productive regulars in UNI’s lineup since conference play began, averaging 7.3 points per game. In Monday’s win over Coe, he scored a career-high 18 points and found himself contributing to the win in a number of ways.

“I took a look (at the box score) again, and he had numbers in five or six different categories and that really describes his game,” Jacobson said. “He plays at a consistently high level and he does it without much emotion.”

UNI tips off against SIU at 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3). The Panthers and Salukis conclude their two-game series with a 5 p.m. tipoff on Sunday (ESPN2).

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