CEDAR FALLS – Just hoopin’ was the marketable quote that AJ Green offered following a standout performance in front of a sellout crowd that was worth the price of admission.
Green either found space off ball screens or created space for himself with drives and step-back 3-pointers during what is becoming his standard shot-making display that accounted for 34 points during the University of Northern Iowa’s 83-73 Saturday win over Drake.
All but one of Green’s career-high 12 made field goals were the type of shots he rehearses on a routine basis.
“It’s just what you work on,” Green related. “I’ve been practicing those types of shots.”
The outlier was an acrobatic, off-balance 3-pointer that Green netted through contact as part of a four-point play.
“That’s luck there,” Green noted. “You get a few of those to fall, you know it’s going to be a good night.”
Sitting next to Green, teammate Trae Berhow quickly chimed in, “I wouldn’t say luck. During practices we’re used to seeing this. AJ does all those shots during practice. It’s fun to see.”
Dedication towards perfecting his shot has given Green the greenest of lights when it comes to shot selection.
“He can shoot it whenever, wherever, however,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “I say that because his teammates are 100% OK with him shooting it whenever, wherever, however. That’s the most important thing. He’s earned their trust and his work ethic has allowed him to play the way he has played for us.”
Green sits 12 points shy of 1,000 for his career entering UNI’s 7 p.m. Wednesday home game against an Illinois State team that knocked off the Panthers, 76-70, on New Year’s Eve in Normal, Ill. The Cedar Falls native is 30 points away from matching his freshman season scoring total through 10 fewer games.
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“He’s handled it great from the get-go,” Jacobson said of Green, who will become his program’s first player to reach 1,000 points before the end of his sophomore year. “We all felt that he was going to step in immediately and not just play as a freshman, but have an impact that most freshmen don’t have. That’s a lot in terms of expectations. Then you tack onto it his dad is an assistant coach, he’s right here in town so everyone knows him.
“He approaches every day with the same mentality. No matter how our team played or how he just played, he can’t wait to get up and work on something so our team can play better and he can keep getting better. … I’ve been very impressed with everything he’s done here in a year and a half. It goes well beyond (1,000 points). He’s handled everything remarkably well.”
Green earned his fourth Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week honor on Monday after averaging 26.5 points through a pair of wins last week while shooting 19-for-41 from the field with eight 3-pointers to go with six assists versus three turnovers.
“I’m not sure if I can remember the last time one player has played this well, dominated the league for a stretch like this in my eight years,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said during Monday’s MVC teleconference. “Maybe (Creighton’s Doug) McDermott back in the day, but (Green) is just so good.”
Muller’s Illinois State team used a 56-point second half to defeat UNI on the opening night of league play. Redbird freshman DJ Horne (22 points) and Antonio Reeves (13 points) were spectacular in that game but have been up and down since.
UNI also turned the ball over 17 times in the game compared to an Illinois State team that had two second-half turnovers and was able to take advantage of opportunities in transition.
“It all just kind of clicked,” Muller said. “The thing you can’t assume is that’s going to happen again. What you can take from it is a little bit of confidence that if you play the right way against what has been the best team in our league, we can compete.”
Prior to Saturday’s 74-67 home win over Indiana State, Illinois State’s only other conference victory was a home win against winless Evansville. San Jose State transfer Jaycee Hillsman has recently emerged as a strong secondary scoring option to complement lead scorer Zach Copeland. Hillsman tallied 23 points Saturday, bolstered by 11 free throws to go with nine rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
“He can be a really tough match-up because of his physicality,” Muller said of his versatile forward. “He’s playing like a senior on both ends of the court.”
Defense will be UNI’s focus early in the week.
“We’re going to have to do a much better job of getting to guys, much better job of defending the ball screen,” Jacobson said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
2019-20 UNI men's basketball coverage
Here's the Courier's coverage of UNI men's basketball this season:
Nick Petaros of The Courier and Cole Bair of The Gazette are back for another week of the On UNI Podcast.
WCF Courier sports writer Nick Petaros joins The Gazette's Cole Bair, and we begin by recapping Northern Iowa's 76-70 Missouri Valley Conference-opening loss at Illinois State Tuesday afternoon.
CEDAR FALLS – Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni left the McLeod Center early.
UNI completed a challenging road trip with a decisive win Thursday night at Grand Canyon.
Northern Iowa found itself in another fight to the finish Tuesday at 24th-ranked Colorado.
UNI's basketball team faces a pair of challenging tests this week at Colorado and Grand Canyon.
The UNI men's basketball team checked everything off its list Monday in a rout of Division III Luther.
A.J. Green was cool in the clutch and UNI pulled off a win over South Carolina Wednesday night at the Cancun Classic.
UNI had West Virginia on the ropes with a 15-point lead midway through the second half Tuesday, but the Panthers couldn't protect it.
UNI's basketball team puts its 6-0 record on the line tonight when it faces West Virginia in the Cancun Challenge.
UNI took care of Cornell Wednesday and will take a 6-0 record to Cancun next week.
UNI junior Trae Berhow went on a record-tying scoring binge Tuesday at the McLeod Center.
UNI is 4-0 with room to grow early in its men's basketball season.
Northern Iowa needed overtime to finish off Northern Colorado Saturday at the McLeod Center.
Two different versions of Northern Iowa's offense were displayed on the two-toned court inside Northern Illinois’ Convocation Center Saturday.
Finding points against one of the nation’s top returning defenses was the challenge Northern Iowa’s basketball team encountered Tuesday.
UNI opens its men's basketball season tonight against a high-profile Old Dominion team in the McLeod Center.
What takes place on the practice floor will go a long way toward determining UNI's success on the basketball court this season.