Panthers win in home opener 58-53

JACOB POTTER, Sports Editor

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Eager to get the season rolling, Panther fans packed the McLeod Center Tuesday night for UNI men’s basketball’s season opener against Old Dominion for a highly competitive defensive battle.

“We had a good crowd in there tonight for kicking off the season,” head coach Ben Jacobson said.  “I think our fans are excited about our roster and our team.”

Returning 10 players from last season, including A.J. Green, the all-MVC preseason first team selection and the comeback of junior center Austin Phyfe, provided plenty to look forward to. 

The Panthers turned to their defense after shooting 6-31 for 19.4 percent from three. They held the Monarchs to 35.6 percent shooting from the floor.  

“The defensive effort was terrific,” Jacobson said.  “The reason that we led the game, the reason we extended it to double figures in the second half is because we defended for 40 minutes.”

Defense, and a that shots would eventually fall after UNI’s starting backcourt of A.J. Green and Spencer Haldeman went 4-21, combined from behind the arc, leading to the Panther win.

“That comes with coach Jake’s confidence in us,” Haldeman said.  “He gives us the green light to play like we do. Everybody has a green light to shoot no matter how we’re shooting.”

“We went in at halftime 2-17 and as I told our guys ‘we’re not changing who we are,’” Jacobson said.  “‘So, we’re going to go out and play the same way, and if we get the same shots, we feel like we’re going to make enough of them to get us a lead.’”

Green and Haldeman each contributed 12 points to the match.

“I really like the shots we generated,” Green said.  “I just want us to keep shooting those shots and have that
confidence.”

Phyfe, the former Waverly-Shell Rock standout, tallied 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds in his first game back from a season-ending illness last year.

“I’m feeling great,” Phyfe said.  “Being back out there is the best feeling in the world […] all my teammates around me being able to talk to me through all that tough stuff last year, and this year, today being able to play 32 minutes.  Them supporting me through it all has been really big to me.”

“I thought he was great,” Jacobson said.  “I kept looking at him in the second half thinking he was going to be tired and he was going to have that look like, ‘Coach, you gotta get me out of here, just give me a break.’  He did not show that. He looked like he was having a good time playing. I’m really proud of him for how hard he’s worked on his conditioning. He’s worked really hard to be where he’s at right now.” 

Jacobson also expressed how proud he is of UNI Athletics as a whole, with men’s basketball looking to add to the success that UNI has seen recently.

“What’s important this early in the season is what we’re doing as a Panther family,” Jacobson said.  “Look what our football team is doing right now with the way they’re playing. Our volleyball team, the way they’re playing, our swimmers what they did, our cross country team what they did. […] Big thanks to our student athletes, our other coaches and our administration for what’s going on.”

Up next, UNI takes their show on the road as they look to spoil the season opener for the Northern Illinois Huskies in Dekalb, IL., on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. 

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