NORMAL, Ill. — This moment took precedence.
Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson walked to the end of his bench during play early in the second half of Tuesday night’s game and put his arm around Miles Wentzien, trying to console the sobbing senior who had a towel over his head and crutches by his side.
After stops at Missouri Western State University and Kirkwood Community College, it wasn’t supposed to end like this for the walk-on who worked his way into a scholarship and a place in UNI’s starting lineup.
One possession after breaking down Illinois State’s defense and dishing to an open teammate, one of UNI’s most relentless offensive rebounders and aggressive players off the dribble was in pain following what appeared to be a non-contact knee injury. The preliminary prognosis from UNI’s training staff is a season-ending torn ACL.
“When it happens to somebody who has put so much into making this happen, it’s just really, really hard,” Jacobson said of the Fort Madison native. “It was a long road for him to get to this point before he even got to Northern Iowa with a couple of different stops. The whole time he knew he wanted to play Division I basketball.
“The reason he got into the starting lineup is because of how hard he worked and how much time he put in outside of practice. I told him that he doesn’t have to go through the process of getting healthy and wish that he would have worked harder, thought about the things he didn’t do. He did everything right.”
UNI’s players were distraught afterward. Coming off the best game in a season slowed by a fractured foot and shoulder injury, Tywhon Pickford felt for the teammate who pushed him to get back onto the court.
“It’s real tough knowing all he’s done,” Pickford said. “His work ethic and his love for the game, seeing something like that happen to him, it hurts. I know his love for this game. He’s like a brother to me.”
Freshman point guard AJ Green could barely put words together, overcome with emotion while feeling for a senior he admires.
“It’s so hard to see Miles go down like that,” Green said. “He works harder than anybody I know. For his season to end like that just sucks.
“He’s... really a leader. Just somebody I can get into the gym with.”
UNI doesn't return to action until Sunday against Drake inside the McLeod Center.
"This hurts," Jacobson said. "It's going to take us a day or two to just get organized here with our thoughts and get Miles squared away. We'll do everything we can just to make sure he understands just how much we respect and how much we love him, and the things that he stands for. Then we'll be ready for Sunday."