CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa basketball coach Ben Jacobson spent Saturday’s bus ride home from Des Moines contemplating whether or not his defense needs to add a few more wrinkles following an 83-77 road loss to Drake.
“I thought a lot about that on the ride home Saturday,” Jacobson acknowledged during Monday’s weekly press conference. “Were there points in that game where we needed to play some zone or do we find another way to defend the post?
“I thought a lot about it until I went back and watched the film. Had we done what we were supposed to do on six to eight possessions on offense — where we turned it over with a bad decision or lack of discipline — or had we done what we were supposed to on the defensive end on six to eight possessions we would have been fine.”
Bradley and Drake picked up the pace last week, scoring 32 and 29 more points than they put up against the Panthers compared to the first meetings in which UNI won by scores of 65-47 at Bradley and 57-54 in the McLeod Center over Drake.
While UNI’s offense handled the increased number of possessions and kept pace, the Panthers still suffered two more close losses — falling to 4-7 in a stretch of 11 league games that have been within a possession at some point in the final minutes.
Bradley and Drake each made at least 50 percent of their field goal attempts with guards finding success in addition to post players off the drive. UNI was outscored 75-40 in the paint during those two losses.
The Panthers now rank ninth out of 10 Missouri Valley Conference teams in field goal percentage defense.
“We haven’t done the job in the last two games defending the ball, staying in front of the ball, defending the ball screen and providing more resistance when they do drive it downhill,” Jacobson said. “Bradley and Drake drove it at us and we didn’t do much about it.”
Rebounding also emerged as a recent area of concern with Drake tallying offensive boards on eight of its 30 misses Saturday. UNI current ranks seventh among MVC schools with a defensive rebounding percentage of 76.7.
In contrast to where Jacobson felt his team just needed to find a stronger finishing touch in the majority of the nine games prior to last week, too many miscues could be found on film over the first 38 minutes of the Bradley and Drake losses.
“Our defense, our rebounding, our discipline let us down in the last two games,” Jacobson said. “That’s disappointing coming off a pretty good stretch of playing really hard and being pretty disciplined.”
Up next, UNI (10-15, 5-7 MVC) hosts Illinois State (14-11, 7-5) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Two SportsCenter Top 10 game-winning buzzer-beaters from beyond halfcourt are the only plays that prevent Illinois State from entering this game in first place.
After losing to Valparaiso on Markus Golder’s three-quarter court shot in its MVC opener, Illinois State was defeated Sunday when Jarred Dixon emerged from a loose ball scrum at halfcourt and banked in a miraculous heave as the buzzer sounded. Fresh off that heartbreaking loss, the Redbirds sit in a three-way tie for second place with Drake and Missouri State.
Illinois State features two of the MVC’s top players in Milik Yarbrough (16.9 points per game) and Phil Fayne (15.2). That duo combined to make 17 of 22 field goal attempts and scored 42 points when the Redbirds held off UNI 70-69 Jan. 8 in Normal, Ill.