CEDAR FALLS — When preparing for Northern Iowa, it’s unlikely that Illinois State’s scouting report mentioned anything about the 3-point shooting prowess of Ted Friedman.
Not only had the 6-foot-9, fifth-year senior never attempted a collegiate 3, he entered Wednesday’s game against the Redbirds having taken just 15 total shots from the field in Missouri Valley Conference games his entire career, with nearly all of them coming in or around the restricted area.
So when Panther guard Juwan McCloud cut to the right wing during a first-half possession, it was no surprise to see Illinois State’s Milik Yarbrough drop into the paint to double UNI leading scorer Bennett Koch, leaving Friedman all alone in the left corner.
While that would likely be the right move on most nights, Wednesday was a different story.
Without hesitation and with 17 seconds still on the shot clock, Friedman hauled in a cross-court pass from McCloud and buried a triple over the outstretched arms of a late-charging Yarbrough, bringing an elated, if not stunned crowd of 3,762 to its feet.
Hours later, the moment remained a blur to Friedman, who hadn’t hit a 3-pointer since his junior season at Ankeny High School.
“Honestly, I don’t really remember shooting it,” he said. “I just remember it going in. It was amazing.”
While the play had a spur-of-the-moment feel to the game’s surprised spectators, it was actually a scenario Friedman and his coaches had spent months preparing for.
Since the start of preseason workouts, Panther coach Ben Jacobson has implored each member of his team to get up 500 shots a day, and says no one has taken to the routine more than one of his least likely outside shooting threats.
“The guy who’s (gotten off 500 shots) the most, all summer, all fall and right now, is Ted,” Jacobson said. “(Every day) he shoots 500 shots. He’s been doing it for months.”
Friedman’s shooting has improved so much it apparently filled him with a sense of bravado, as he claims to have called his shot to teammate Hunter Rhodes during Wednesday’s pregame.
“Right before the game I told Hunter, ‘If I’m going in, I’m going to get one tonight,’” he said. “I could feel it. I just knew as soon as I got it I was going to pull the trigger. And it went in.”
The 3-pointer was the highlight of an all-around good night for Friedman, who saw the floor for the first time since a Jan. 7 game against Loyola.
Against Illinois State, he played 19 critical minutes, his most playing time since Dec. 7, 2016. Twelve of those minutes came in a first half where the Panthers used a 25-0 run as the spark for much-needed 83-72 win.
He hopes the increased playing time will continue today when UNI travels to Chicago for a rematch with Loyola, which currently sits alone atop the MVC.
Friedman admits he had a hard time sitting out the previous four games. But like all role players, he knew he had to stay ready when his number was called.
“It always feels great to get back out there,” he said. “It’s tough sometimes sitting on the bench, but (I’ll do) whatever coach feels is best going into the game. It was my turn and it always feels good to come out there and help the team.”
If his playing time remains steady, can we expect further displays of 3-point sharpshooting?
“I’m hoping so,” he said.