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Northern Iowa's Kwadzo Ahelegbe, left, and Johnny Moran, right, force Wichita State's Toure' Murry, center, out of bounds in the second half of a MVC college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Wichita State won 73-55. (MATTHEW PUTNEY / Courier Photo Editor)

CEDAR FALLS - If UNI is going to mount a charge to the NCAA Tournament (by winning Arch Madness), it had better make some drastic improvements in a short time period.

The Panthers were humbled, 73-55, by Wichita State at home Saturday night. This game had the feel of a 13 seed versus a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, as UNI had to scratch and claw all night just to stay within striking distance.

Even then, UNI never led in this game, and trailed by as much as 25, with 2:43 remaining.

The Panthers got outrebounded for the third straight game, and they clearly miss Lucas O'Rear's screens, defense and overall energy.

Coach Ben Jacobson was asked in the postgame press conference if the Panthers have missed O'Rear's screens and intangibles.

"That's a legitimate question," said the UNI boss, after the most severe home loss of his career. "The bottom-line is we need to play better. Our guys know that, and they understand that."

The Panthers suggested afterward that they simply need to play better defense, hit open shots (Anthony James WAS 1-for-10), and limit turnovers (though they committed just eight turnovers versus Wichita State).

The truth is, this team, with its shortened bench, simply lacks energy of late. Jake Koch, for instance, has often labored up the floor of late, fighting a sore left ankle.

Bottom-line is, the Panthers miss Lucas O'Rear. How they overcome that fact is anybody's guess.

OFF THE BEATON PATH: According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Coach Jacobson recently attended a Kirkwood Community College game, presumably to check up on center Brennan Cougill. Cougill, the 2009 Mr. Basketball in Iowa, by way of Sioux City Heelan, is currently averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per night for Kirkwood.

Cougill, a 6-foot-9, 260-pounder, was ruled academically ineligible at Iowa last summer, but he could fill a big void at UNI next winter. Stay tuned ...

CLOSING NUMBERS: UNI is now 12-2 at home this season. ... After Saturday's outcome, UNI's lead in its all-time series with Wichita State is 24-19. ... Shockers coach Gregg Marshall is now 3-6 in his career against the Panthers.

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