UNI Panthers

UNI men's basketball takeaways: Defensive effort needs to improve

Panthers host Indiana State on Tuesday

Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — After getting its first Missouri Valley Conference win, 69-64 at home against Bradley Saturday, Northern Iowa (12-2, 1-1) hosts Indiana State (8-5, 1-1) Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Sycamores are coming off an 80-76 loss at Drake, but entered their game against the Bulldogs on an eight-game winning streak.

UNI Coach Ben Jacobson met the media monday. Here’s what we learned:

C for effort on defense?

Jacobson left little doubt as to what the focal point is for his team right now. The 13th-year coach is looking for more effort on the defensive end of the floor.

“We need to play harder (defensively). Plain and simple,” Jacobson said. “A guy gets in a spot and he starts to run off screens and we’re already a step and a half behind him, from the get go. As soon as we get bumped a little bit on a ball screen we’re behind. Because we’re not playing hard enough. That has to change.”

Offensive adjustments

With Spencer Haldeman (ankle) set to miss his second game, Tywhon Pickford will continue to start in his place. So, considering Pickford is a defense-first, rebounding guard and Haldeman is a shooter, Jacobson and his staff have adjusted the offense as a result.

“You’ve got different spacing on the floor with Spencer, AJ (Green) and Trae (Berhow) and Isaiah (Brown) with the way he’s shot the ball,” Jacobson said. “(Pickford) hasn’t done as much in terms of shooting the ball from the 3-point line so that changes some of the dynamics at the offensive end. We don’t need to change a lot of what we’re doing, but there’s some subtle things we need to do differently knowing that Spencer may be out for another game or two and Ty’s going to be in that spot a lot.”

Scouting the Sycamores

Indiana State is led by Tyreke Key’s 18.2 points per game and has received a boost from freshman forwards Jake LaRavia (8.3) and Tre Williams (8.0). Sharp-shooting guard Jordan Barnes (12.6) is the Sycamores’ second-leading scorer and experienced forward Bronson Kessinger and former Iowa guard Christian Williams provide quality depth off Greg Lansing’s bench.

Cooper Neese, Key and Barnes are all shooting better than 40 percent from 3, which has made the Sycamores particularly difficult to prepare for, according to Jacobson.

“They’ve been one of the better backcourts in the league, already, and they certainly are again this year,” Jacobson said. “The two freshmen inside the two games that they’ve played in league play — not just looking at their numbers, but watching them — two very impressive freshmen.”

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