Panthers beat Saint Louis, fall to BYU in NIT

The UNI men’s basketball team played in the first and second rounds of the National Invitation Tournament, or NIT, this past week. After defeating Saint Louis in the first round, the Panthers fell on the road in Provo, Utah, to Brigham Young, ending their 2021-22 season. They will now look ahead to next season with several key players returning, including Nate Heise and Noah Carter.

DREW HILL, Sports Writer, Opinion Columnist

The UNI men’s basketball team played in two games this past week in the National Invitation Tournament, or NIT. Because they won the regular season conference title in the Missouri Valley, but were not granted an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament, UNI received an automatic spot in the NIT. The Panthers earned a six-seed and faced the third-seeded Saint Louis University (SLU) Billikens in the first round on Wednesday, March 16 in St. Louis, Mo. It was UNI’s  third-straight game in the city of St. Louis, as the MVC tournament was also held there two weeks prior with the Panthers playing in two games previously.

The Panthers got off to a hot start in this one, with three pointers by Tywhon Pickford and Nate Heise on their first two possessions of the game. The hot start proved to be a good omen for UNI as they kept the energy up in the first half, leading by as many as 13 points at one point. The Billikens clawed their way back into the contest before the end of the first half, but the strong offensive output from the Panthers earned them a 43-38 lead at halftime. UNI made 11 of their 22 three-point attempts and shot a blistering 48% from the field overall in the first half, while SLU kept up with the pace at 51% from the floor.

The game plan switched early in the second half as UNI looked to score closer to the basket. They moved the lead up to nine at 49-40 following two free throws and a dunk from Noah Carter, and the Panthers kept pouring in on from then on. A slew of threes from AJ Green, Trae Berhow and Bowen Born put UNI up by as many as 24 points in the second half, all but sealing the contest with only a few minutes to play. The Billikens drew closer but not nearly close enough, as the Panthers sealed the win with an 80-68 victory.

UNI was led by Green in scoring with 20 points, including five three-pointers. Carter contributed 19 points and five assists, and Berhow scored 18 points, all off six three-pointers, and added seven rebounds. UNI made 16 three-pointers as a team.

The next game in the bracket was against the No. 2 seeded Brigham Young (BYU) Cougars on Saturday, March 19 in Provo, Utah. Similar to their first-round game against SLU, the Panthers got off to a hot start in this one, as a 13-3 run early on put them up 20-10 in the first half. The Cougars turned up the heat soon after, and quickly took the lead and never looked back. They shot 54% from the floor and 50% from beyond the three-point line in the first half en route to a 47-42 halftime lead.

The second half was much of the same. While the Panthers did manage to cut the lead down to 51-49 early in the half, BYU kept pouring it on. Leading by as many as 21 points in the final 20 minutes, the Cougars never took their foot off the pedal. 90-71 wound up being the final score as the Panthers season came to an end.

UNI was led in scoring by Carter, who put up 24 points. Green added 16 points and five assists, and Berhow had 13 points to go along with seven rebounds. BYU’s Gideon George scored a career-high 27 points on 10-15 shooting. They will advance to the quarterfinals and will play the winner of Southern Methodist and Washington State. The Panthers will look to build off of their NIT appearance into next season.