CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team’s recent road woes followed them inside McLeod Center on Saturday, as the Panthers fell to Indiana State, 77-66.
An encouraging first half featured contributions from Austin Phyfe, Bennett Koch and Spencer Haldeman. Koch and Phyfe didn’t see the floor at the same time, but both were able to score inside, get to the free throw line and create space on the perimeter — something Haldeman took advantage of with nine first-half points on 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range.
Despite the 33-33 score at halftime, there were underlying numbers that would catch up to UNI in the second half. Nine first-half turnovers and a 5-of-10 mark from the free-throw line created yet another scenario where a halftime tie very easily could have been a halftime lead.
“When we did get something going early, we missed some free throws early,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. “Missed the front-end (of 1-and-1s) a couple times. Just didn’t allow ourselves to get off to a good start. And then we made some mistakes.”
Beyond their slow start — Indiana State got out to a 13-2 lead to begin the game — the Panthers once again encountered defensive mistakes that have plagued them throughout conference play. Lapses in judgment and a lack of executing the scouting report created yet another opportunity for their opponent to gain a lead in the second half. And for the seventh time in its last eight games, UNI’s opponent shot over 50 percent in the second half.
“We’re guarding the basketball, reach and a guy goes by us, so we’re forced into a help situation and that leads to an open 3,” Jacobson said. “Miscommunication on a ball-screen — that leads to an open 3. I can think of three of the 3s in that second half that were defensive mistakes that we made. We’ve got to get that taken care of on the practice floor. I’ve got to do a much better job of holding guys accountable on the practice floor so we play different in the game.”
Koch came off the bench to score a team-high 16 points. Klint Carlson’s nine second-half points helped keep the Panthers within eight with 2:34 to play. However, the defensive mistakes were too much to overcome as the Sycamores shot 62 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3-point range in a second half where they outscored UNI by 11.
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“The struggles we’ve had have not been for a lack of playing hard,” Jacobson said.
“It’s simply been for lacking the ability to play for stretches without making mistakes. And the mistakes are, boy, they’re simple ones.”