CEDAR FALLS — Ben Jacobson’s level of enthusiasm doesn’t seem to line up with Northern Iowa’s recent production.
Dating back to last season, the Jacobson-led Panthers have lost eight consecutive true road games, including an ugly 70-47 defeat at Loyola Sunday.
And with another road contest awaiting his team Wednesday, most wouldn’t blame Jacobson if he were pining for the friendly confines of the McLeod Center.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Having seen the Panthers play well during a recent three-game home winning streak, Jacobson remains confident that his team can carry that production on the road, even expressing excitement over having another chance to do so.
“We have a great opportunity to get to go do it again Wednesday,” he said “Great opportunity to go back on the road Wednesday to see if we can do it right.”
Like most of the Missouri Valley Conference, the Panthers have gotten little right away from home this season. MVC teams are winning at just a 28-percent clip on the road in league play, and just one has a winning record.
And when you take league leader Loyola — which is 4-1 on the road in the Valley — out of the equation the picture is even more grim, as the rest of the conference is a combined 10-35.
UNI, which hasn’t won a road game since Feb. 12 of last year, is one of two teams with an 0-5 record away from home in Valley play. In those games, the Panthers are averaging just 55 points while losing by an average of 12.4.
Believing they know what it takes to win on the road, Panther players say a lot of their problems have been mental and that they need to make proper adjustments when playing in a hostile environment.
“At home games we have the fans (cheering for us) but away we don’t, and we have to bring the energy we have at homes games with us,” guard Tywhon Pickford said. “On the road, all we have is us.”
The next opportunity to crack the win column comes against Evansville Wednesday.
Despite having the MVC’s top scorer in Ryan Taylor (20.1 points per game) and distributor in Dru Smith (4.8 assists), the Aces haven’t been an offensive juggernaut this season, scoring just 68 points per game, which is ninth in the Valley.
But like most of the league, they have done a good job defending their home court. Despite being just 4-6 in conference play, Evansville is 3-2 against Valley foes at the Ford Center and 11-2 overall.
The Aces, who’ve won two in a row, are also coming off perhaps their most impressive win of the season Saturday when they earned a 77-73 win over a Drake team that began last week tied atop the MVC standings.
In many of their losses, both home and away, players and coaches have been critical of the energy level the Panthers have played with, particularly in the early portion of games.
In their three Valley wins, UNI is averaging 33 points in the first half. In its seven losses, that number dips to 25.8, with the Panthers scoring 26 or fewer five times.
Regardless of where they play, fixing those early scoring issues remains a major focus of Panther practices, with players working to improve both physical and mental aspects of the team’s game.
“Energy is key for us,” guard Juwan McCloud said. “We’ve got to have a pretty solid start. If we come out, have energy, we’ll (be fine).”
Wednesday’s game in Evansville tips at 7 p.m.