It took the Northern Iowa men’s basketball team longer than expected Saturday night, but the Panthers finished off Illinois State 94-87 in double overtime for its first sweep of a Missouri Valley Conference foe this season.
When the Panthers took to the Doug Collins Court in Redbird Arena on Saturday, they controlled their own destiny.
A win would give the Panthers a chance to finish in the top six of the Valley standings, which would keep them out of a play-in game situation on Thursday when the Arch Madness conference tournament starts.
It took longer than expected – and it wasn’t easy – but the Panthers did their part to put themselves in a position to avoid the play-in game.
Unfortunately, according to Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson, with tie breakers taken into account, the Panthers will enter the tournament as the seventh seed and play on Thursday.
But that didn’t matter as much to Jacobson as how his team played Saturday and down the stretch.
“We came into this weekend knowing we needed two wins,” he said. “Our guys battled today, and they made so many plays. We played our best basketball the last four games.
“This weekend, our game with Drake at home and our game against Valparaiso we really played well. We came into this weekend talking about getting the job done and we did.”
After winning the opening game of the series on Friday night, the Panthers came ready to play on Saturday, picking up right where they left off.
After taking a 10-point lead with 11:12 to play on the first half, Illinois State kicked it into a different gear and shut down the Panthers with its defense, especially the zone they employed to keep the ball out of Austin Phyfe’s hands down low after UNI scored 16 of its 19 points in the paint to that point.
A 20-9 run by the Redbirds that spanned more than eight minutes gave ISU a 31-26 lead with 3:49 left in the half. The Redbirds took a 37-30 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Panthers didn’t have an answer at the start of the second half and struggled against ISU’s stingy defense.
But with ISU up 45-37 with 17 minutes to play, the Redbirds’ freshman big man Dusan Mahorcic was whistled for his fourth foul and had to be taken out. That’s when the Panthers were able to turn the momentum back their way.
An 11-0 run that culminated in a Trae Berhow 3-pointer put UNI ahead 48-47 with 12:17 to play in regulation. From there, it was a back-and-forth battle that saw six ties and the lead change nine times before UNI’s Austin Phyfe sent the game into overtime with a running hook with 1 second remaining.
“I think Illinois State played well the entire game,” Jacobson said. “They really dug in and out-played us in that stretch. Give them credit for hanging tough tonight.”
In the first overtime, it looked like Illinois State would run away with the game, taking a 75-70 lead just a minute into the extra period.
After Bowen Born gave UNI a 76-75 lead with two free throws with 2:57 to play, ISU’s Mahorcic came right back on the next possession to give the Redbirds the lead again.
Noah Carter gave the Panthers an 81-79 lead with 24 seconds to play in the OT period, but Mahorcic sent it into the second overtime with two free throws.
The second overtime belonged to Northern Iowa, which never trailed. The Panthers built the lead to 10 points on Born’s second free throw with 1:05 left, and the Panthers were able to let the clock wind down for the margin of victory.
It was the first double-overtime game for the Panthers since the 2016-17 season, when they beat Loyola 72-69.
The Panthers shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the two overtime periods after shooting 50.7 percent in regulation. UNI hit 11-of-28 3-pointers on the night in the first 40 minutes, and connected on 3-of-6 in the overtime periods.
For the second straight night, the Panthers had four players finish in double figures, led by Carter’s 22 points. Jacobson has said all season that when Carter is good, Northern Iowa is good.
“Noah got them in both ways tonight,” Jacobson said. “He got us some really important points and he had great activity on both ends.”
Born finished the night with 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including three 3-pointers, and a team-high seven assists, while Phyfe had a huge game with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Berhow finished with 14 points.
While Jacobson gave all the praise to his players and coaches, the UNI men’s basketball coach notched his 300th win in 15 seasons as the Panthers’ head coach.
“It cones in such a great game it’s hard to let my mind go there,” Jacobson said. “This is all about the players. I appreciate everything they have done for Northern Iowa basketball.
“I wish the names of our staff was listed, too. They’ve been here the whole time. It’s been amazing.”
Jacobson takes a 300-189 record into the Arch Madness Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Thursday.
Recent 2020-21 UNI men's basketball coverage
Stories from the 2020-21 UNI men's basketball season.
Northern Iowa’s basketball team boarded a plane home from its first extended Missouri Valley Conference road trip Sunday night with plenty of distance remaining to be covered.
“We’ve been fighting through everything to improve each and every game. This kind of got us over that hump.” -- UNI center Austin Phyfe
N. Iowa 94, Illinois St. 87, 2OT
N. IOWA (8-15) — Phyfe 9-18 0-0 18, Berhow 5-14 0-2 14, Born 6-12 6-8 21, Heise 3-8 1-2 8, Pickford 3-3 3-6 9, Carter 8-12 3-4 22, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Betz 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 35-69 13-22 94.
ILLINOIS ST. (7-17) — Mahorcic 8-9 4-5 20, Fleming 1-3 0-0 2, Reeves 4-12 3-3 11, Strong 5-12 2-3 14, Washington 2-7 0-0 6, Horne 13-23 4-5 34, Ndiaye 0-1 0-0 0, Boyd 0-0 0-0 0, Andrews 0-0 0-0 0, Sissoko 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-67 13-16 87.
Halftime—Illinois St. 37-30. 3-Point Goals—N. Iowa 11-28 (Berhow 4-9, Born 3-6, Carter 3-7, Heise 1-5, Betz 0-1), Illinois St. 8-29 (Horne 4-10, Washington 2-4, Strong 2-8, Ndiaye 0-1, Fleming 0-2, Reeves 0-4). Fouled Out—Heise. Rebounds—N. Iowa 29 (Phyfe 9), Illinois St. 39 (Mahorcic 9). Assists—N. Iowa 18 (Born 7), Illinois St. 14 (Horne 5). Total Fouls—N. Iowa 21, Illinois St. 24.