UNI Panthers

Young, inexperienced UNI men's basketball team working to improve in 3 areas

Panthers focused on defense, turnovers and defensive rebounding ahead of home opener

Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

CEDAR FALLS — After an 0-3 start to the season, UNI men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson didn’t have to look hard to identify what needs corrected.

Throughout his news conference earlier this week, Jacobson routinely referenced defense, turnovers and defensive rebounding as areas to improve upon.

“When I was just getting started (in coaching) Norm Stewart told me early on that defensive possessions are not going to be perfect (but) the whole trick is how hard can you make it? At the end of the day we didn’t make it hard enough with our defense,” Jacobson said. “Then, certainly, (we) gave away too many possessions. Far too careless with the basketball. Then, we didn’t take care of our defensive glass. That’s an area you have to take care of.”

While offering those three critiques of his team, Jacobson pointed out he didn’t see the shortcomings resulting from a lack of effort. Looking at positives from last week’s games — despite their end results — he was encouraged by the sophomores and freshmen who are already playing large roles this season.

“Really encouraged by the play of the five young guys,” Jacobson said. “Certainly some (good) stretches. You think about Noah (Carter’s 28 points) against Western Kentucky, James (Betz’s) first half against Utah State. Antwan (Kimmons’) best game was probably the middle of the three. Bowen (Born) and Nate (Heise) for true freshmen, felt like those guys put together a good tournament.”

The “five young guys” Jacobson references scored 55 percent of the Panthers points in their first three games — quickly establishing their importance to this year’s team.

Without Trae Berhow (COVID-19) — UNI’s second leading scorer last season (12.5 ppg) — at the Crossover Classic and with those five new faces part of its regular rotation, the Panthers managed to replicate the offensive production they put up last season, averaging 74 points per game.

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However, despite there being positives to highlight, Jacobson said his young team is more focused on what they need to improve upon this week in practice ahead of Friday’s game against St. Ambrose.

“Almost to a guy, before they would give me something they felt went well, they said ‘you know coach, it’s almost hard to start there because we didn’t win any of the three games,’” Jacobson said. “That competitive part of it obviously is good to hear from your guys. They’re interested in working hard to get better and working hard to do the three things in particular that I touched on that we need to get cleaned up.”

UNI hosts St. Ambrose at McLeod Center Friday night at 6 p.m. (ESPN+). Due to COVID-19 protocols, no fans will be allowed to attend.

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