CEDAR FALLS — One night after Ben Jacobson said his team got “out-toughed” on its home floor in a 70-57 loss to Valparaiso, Northern Iowa bounced back with a 74-60 win Sunday at McLeod Center.
“The response was great,” Jacobson said. “We tweaked one or two things defensively in terms of scheme, but that had very little to do with the effort, the discipline, the determination, the toughness to make plays. That was guys doing their job.”
Trae Berhow sparked UNI’s quick start, scoring 11 of his game-high 17 points in the first 3:20 while the Panthers raced out to a 33-24 lead.
Nate Heise — who joined Berhow in double figures with 15 points — got one of UNI’s 13 steals just before halftime and beat the buzzer with a crafty left-handed layup in transition for a 39-33 lead at the break.
“Yesterday after the game, after that kind of a blowout, we took that personally,” Heise said. “I think it mostly started on defense tonight and getting out in transition. Our defense turned into offense.”
Two 3-pointers from Heise, one from Noah Carter and another from Berhow in the second half sparked a 13-2 run that gave UNI (7-14, 5-10 MVC) its largest lead of the game at 61-43 with 9:56 remaining. Valparaiso (8-14, 5-8) responded with a 9-0 run of its own to get back within 10, but the Panthers countered with a 7-1 run and an effective press-break that was punctuated with Bowen Born’s alley-oop to Carter with 47 seconds left.
After the win Berhow said playing more of their flow offense helped him find more open shots than in the series’ first game, and much of the Panthers' success in flow came courtesy of Austin Phyfe and Berhow, whose experience in the system helped UNI use more of the ball-fakes and shot-fakes Jacobson has been asking for.
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“We took too many quick shots yesterday,” Jacobson said. “Then, Valpo doesn’t have to play defense on those possessions. Tonight was way different. We got to the second side. Our cuts were better.
“I liked it because it seemed like we got our feet set and used the shot-fake. Those are points we’ve been leaving on the table.”
Phyfe added 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists while Born scored eight, dished out five assists and had a career-high five steals.
UNI hosts Drake on Wednesday at 7 p.m. (ESPN+) for its regular season home finale before traveling to Illinois State for its last two games of the regular season on Feb. 26 and 27.
“We beat a good team (Sunday). We’ve been OK in the last three weeks. We’ve played better, we’ve been more consistent,” Jacobson said. “I’ve mentioned it a time or two, we gotta level up one more time. We’ve got room to play better. Hopefully this (game) can help us do that.”