Panthers defeat Salukis, move into first place in MVC

The+Panther+mens+basketball+team+earned+a+hard-fought+53-44+victory+over+Southern+Illinois+on+Wednesday%2C+Feb.+9.+The+win+moves+into+a+half-game+lead+over+Loyola-Chicago+for+first+place+in+the+Missouri+Valley+Conference.

TONI FORTMANN

The Panther men’s basketball team earned a hard-fought 53-44 victory over Southern Illinois on Wednesday, Feb. 9. The win moves into a half-game lead over Loyola-Chicago for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.

DAVID WARRINGTON

The UNI men’s basketball team was back at home in the McLeod Center on Wednesday after picking up a critical overtime victory over Drake on Saturday. UNI entered the game with a record of 13-9 on the season and 9-3 in Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) play. The opponent for the Panthers was the Southern Illinois Salukis, who came into Cedar Falls with a record of 12-12 on the season, 5-7 in the MVC. The Panthers edged out a 69-68 win against these Salukis back on Jan. 15 in Carbondale, Ill. and were looking to complete the season sweep against SIU. After a hard-fought game, the Panthers came away victorious, winning by a final of 53-44. The win, followed by a loss from Loyola, moved UNI to the top spot in the MVC standings.

AJ Green got things started for the Panthers by hitting a three-pointer. Ben Coupet Jr. answered back with a three of his own for the Salukis, but Green hit yet another three to give UNI a 6-3 lead. This would spark a 12-0 Panther run, allowing them to take a 15-3 lead. However, turnovers and missed shots would hurt the Panthers late in the half, and the Salukis began to find their groove from distance, getting as close as 23-19 before Green hit another three-pointer with less than 30 seconds to go until the half, giving the Panthers a 26-19 lead at the break.

It was a quiet start to the second half as neither team scored for nearly two full minutes. The Salukis finally got the lid off of the basket and managed to score the first four points of the half to get within three at 26-23. As we’ve seen many times this season, the Panthers knew how to respond, with a Noah Carter layup followed by a Trae Berhow three-pointer bringing it back to an eight point UNI lead. SIU got close a couple of times down the stretch, but at the end Green took over, scoring seven of the last nine UNI points to secure a Panther victory, 53-44.

Green led the way for the Panthers, scoring 24 points and knocking down four three-pointers.

“We knew they were going to slow the game down, or try to,” Green said after the game. 

“We executed well and took advantage of how they were guarding us.”

A couple of guards had exceptional nights on the glass, with Berhow pulling in a team-high 11 rebounds and Nate Heise right behind him with 10.

Lance Jones led the way for Southern Illinois, finishing with 13 points. The Salukis struggled against the UNI defense, making only 16 of their 48 shot attempts, or just 33.3%.

“Our defense was really good in the first half,” head coach Ben Jacobson said after the game, explaining how the game remained close at halftime despite UNI allowing only 19 first-half points. “We really benefited from a great defensive effort, and them missing shots, and we didn’t take advantage of it. So at halftime, now you’ve got a ball game.”

With the win the Panthers improve to 14-9 on the season and take a half-game lead on Loyola-Chicago for first place in the MVC with a 10-3 conference record. They will return to play on Sunday when they travel to play Loyola a game in which first place in the MVC will be up for grabs.