CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa added to the evidence Wednesday night of why preseason polls aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
After blowing out Missouri Valley Conference preseason favorite Missouri State 80-57 earlier this month, UNI trounced the Bears once again, 95-66 at McLeod Center to remain unbeaten at home.
“Coming out of the last two games we needed to take care of the basketball better,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “I thought tonight was maybe as good of a night as we’ve had in terms of handling some of the traps, staying on our feet and using the pass-fake. The guys were in the right spots.”
Cooper Ford Jr.’s 3 at 10:49 of the first half to bring Missouri State (10-12, 4-5) within 23-21 was the final time the Bears were within a possession of the Panthers.
After an uneven start, UNI’s offense came alive with a 15-2 run to gain a 38-23 lead, and it only got worse from there for Missouri State.
The Bears, one of the Valley’s youngest teams, struggled against UNI’s veteran roster and its free-flowing offense. The Panthers (18-3, 7-2) hit 17 3s in the win, shot 58 percent from the field and dished out 19 assists.
“I personally feel like we’re one of the most unselfish teams in the MVC,” UNI guard Trae Berhow said. “We find the player with the best shot opportunity in that possession and we’re going to find him no matter what throughout the game and that’s just how our offense works.”
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However, ahead of the second half’s under-12 media timeout, Jacobson called timeout after a 17-17 start to ask for more from his team.
“It wasn’t a different kind of timeout than we had all night tonight, we just talked about needing to get a couple stops,” Jacobson said. “Can we stop them three out of four times? Can we stop them four out of five times? We were able to keep it at 20 by matching baskets, but at some point we’re either going to stop them a few times or they’re going to stop us a few times. Let’s be the first ones.”
AJ Green led all scorers with 27 points, while Austin Phyfe (17), Trae Berhow (16), Isaiah Brown (16) and Spencer Haldeman (12) joined him in double figures. To go along with his 16 points, Brown finished with a career-high nine assists, racking up eight in the game’s first 20 minutes.
“It’s easy to get assists when you’ve got people like (Green and Berhow) on your team. (Green), Trae, Phyfe, (Haldeman), when they’re open you can almost count it,” Brown said. “I was just turning down good looks for great looks.”
UNI travels to Evansville (9-12, 0-8) on Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip against the Purple Aces (ESPN3).