Panthers come up short in Arch Madness

After earning the No. 1 seed in the 2022 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament, the Panthers defeated Illinois State in the quarterfinal round before falling to Loyola-Chicago in the semifinals. They will look ahead to a postseason birth in the National Invitational Tournament, or NITm which they secured on automatic bid to play after winning the MVC regular season.


The dream of an appearance in the NCAA Tournament has been dashed for the Panthers men’s basketball team as they fell out of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament (also known as “Arch Madness”) semi-final after coming in as the No. 1 overall seed.

Arch Madness has not been kind to the Panthers over the past few years, with the team suffering a premature defeat in the quarterfinals to Drake in 2020, and being forced to withdraw because of a positive COVID-19 test just last year.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Purple and Gold this weekend, as the team was able to get an impressive win over Illinois State in the quarterfinals on Friday.

UNI was able to maintain their hot shooting streak from their previous game against Loyola-Chicago that won them the MVC regular season title. The opening half against the Redbirds saw them shoot over 50% from the field, including 40% from behind the arc.

Much of that shooting success came from the fluid ball movement, with the team totaling 16 assists on the day. AJ Green had seven assists by himself, as he also led the team in rebounds with six, and points with 17. Green and Trae Berhow each had three three-pointers on the day, and Noah Carter helped the team total a 36-16 advantage in points in the paint.

And while the Panthers were able to freely swing the ball around, Illinois State couldn’t seem to hold onto it when it was their turn. The Redbirds committed 15 total turnovers, leading to 16 Panther points.

The 78-65 win marked UNI’s seventh-consecutive win over Illinois State, their longest active winning streak over a conference opponent. That win also advanced the Panther men to the semifinal round, where they would have a rematch against Loyola-Chicago.

But what the shooting gods giveth, they also taketh away, as the Purple and Gold found themselves ice cold against the Ramblers. The ball was not moving as smoothly as it had in the previous game, with Loyola playing stout defense as they seeked revenge for the previous week’s defeat at the McLeod Center.

The Panthers were held without a three-point basket until the final minutes of the first-half, as Berhow and Nate Heise were able to convert back-to-back from deep.

But those late makes weren’t enough, as the team found themselves down 39-23 going into the locker room at half. It would take a miracle for them to erase a deficit that large in such a short amount of time.

Unfortunately, that miracle never came as Loyola kept the clamps on tighter in the second half, keeping the Panthers to a measly 12.5% field goal percentage. The team did put up a fight on the defensive side of the ball, forcing 15 Loyola turnovers on the day, and holding them to a 28% field goal percentage in the second half.

But it just wasn’t enough, as UNI didn’t see a made basket from the field for the final 15 minutes of the game. Their 20 second-half points was the lowest amount they have scored in any half all season. By the time the buzzer sounded, they had only amassed 43 points (also a season low) to Loyola’s 66.

Green was the only Panther to score in the double-digits as he was able to score 13 off of 20 attempts from the floor. Braden Norris of Loyola led both sides in scoring, going 7-10 from the field on his way to 19 points.

But no tears were wept, as the Panthers still have games to play as they prepare for the upcoming National Invitational Tournament, or NIT, in which they secured an automatic bid with their MVC regular-season title. Coach Ben Jacobson, who recently was named MVC Coach of the Year for the a record fifth time in his sixteen years as coach, will have them ready for another postseason run as the NIT commences on March 15.