CEDAR FALLS — Winning on the road in college basketball isn’t easy. Power-5 programs that yield scheduling leverage go to great lengths to play as few true road games as possible because of the level of difficulty.
Northern Iowa currently finds itself in the midst of serious road struggles, having yet to win a true road game this season.
Each time the Panthers appeared headed for a turnaround over the past couple weeks, it was after a win at home. Currently on a three-game home winning streak, UNI head coach Ben Jacobson is still searching for what’s preventing his team from taking its production outside McLeod Center.
“It’s a combination of what we’re running, the execution of it, the timing of either good plays or the handful of bad plays, (and) some quick exchanges that take place,” Jacobson said. “Sometimes you’re quick to point to, ‘well, this guy isn’t playing as well on the road, or, you’re not making shots on the road.’ It isn’t that simple.”
Beyond X’s and O’s Jacobson says his team simply needs to make more of the “hard plays.”
“The road is harder. It always has been. That’s not new to this year, or new to this team. So you have to be able to make the hard plays,” Jacobson said. “We haven’t been able to do that on the road. Not that we haven’t played hard. But you have to make the hard plays — there’s a big difference between those two things.”
While its last three home results have been encouraging, Northern Iowa’s issues have also shown up in Cedar Falls. A 3-8 conference record, which ties UNI for last place in the league with Valparaiso, is proof of the problems Jacobson, his staff and the players are working to fix.
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Sixth-place Indiana State (10-13, 5-6) stands in the way of a potential four-game home winning streak for the Panthers at 3 p.m. Saturday. UNI lost its first meeting with the Sycamores, 69-67, on a tip-in at the buzzer. It was perhaps its best performance in a true road game to date, and while Jacobson liked what he saw from the offense in its last matchup with the Sycamores, defensive miscues cost UNI the game.
Specifically when Jordan Barnes, the Sycamores’ leading scorer (17.8 ppg), hit three 3s that evaporated a double-digit UNI lead in the second half. Isaiah Brown will once again be tasked to guard Barnes, who dropped 27 in the early January win.
“(Isaiah) learned a lot in just those three possessions (against Indiana State) and was able to come back and do a much better job and take a step forward defensively for us,” Jacobson said. “He wasn’t quite as sharp against Evansville, but he’s got a much better feel for it because of the experiences he’s had here in the last seven, eight games.”
Outside of the Brown-Barnes matchup Jacobson says they’ll continue to search for those few things the team can consistently execute.
“You get to the point — and we may have passed that point already — where you’re doing a handful of things all the time,” Jacobson said. “So your players can gain a confidence in what we’re doing; ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do, and they’re going to have to stop us.’ We’ve been looking hard at it and tweaking it here and there a lot. We’re certainly to the point where we’ve got to get settled in on some of these things.”