CEDAR FALLS — AJ Green typically keeps his emotions closer to his vest than wearing them on his sleeves, but University of Northern Iowa basketball coach Ben Jacobson says his teammates realize there’s always a fire burning within their sophomore point guard.
Green couldn’t help but cut loose while putting together a special, 21-point second half to lead UNI to a thrilling, 83-73 win over Drake in front of 6,497 fans who filled the McLeod Center Saturday afternoon.
The largest crowd to attend a basketball game in his hometown of Cedar Falls since UNI’s memorable win over North Carolina on Nov. 21, 2015 inspired Green to outwardly embrace his shot-making display.
Green emphatically gestured toward the fans after an acrobatic 3-pointer through contact led to a timely four-point play. He later brought out his bow-and-arrow celebration from high school and also celebrated a ridiculous step-back, go-ahead 3-pointer in front of the student section during a late 13-0 run that gave the Panthers the lead for good.
“Coach says you’ve got to get loose and have fun out there, show some emotion,” said Green, who finished one shy of his career high with 34 points on 12 of 21 shooting, including six 3-pointers. “The fans love that. You can’t help it after everyone is on their feet cheering loud like that. It gets to you and you’ve got to enjoy it.”
It took a special performance by Green to overcome a determined Drake team (16-9, 6-6 Missouri Valley) that led throughout the majority of this game and had a timely answer for all but UNI’s final run.
Seven-foot center Liam Robbins, a player Jacobson considers one of the nation’s most improved, led Drake with 17 points. Guards D.J. Wilkins and Anthony Murphy finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively, while point guard Roman Penn was tough off the drive with 12 points.
The Bulldogs shot 64% to take a four-point halftime lead and finished the game 50% from the field with nine 3-pointers. UNI also shot 50% and scored 14 more points from the free throw line.
“We dug in and gave ourselves a better chance in the second half with our defense, but they were awfully determined,” Jacobson said. “There were possessions where it just didn’t matter.”
Green, supported by Trae Berhow’s 18 points and Spencer Haldeman’s 12 points without a miss, helped UNI (21-3, 10-2) outscore the Bulldogs with 48 second-half points.
“There were times in the second half where I found myself enjoying what was going on,” Jacobson said. “To say Drake played great would probably do them an injustice. They’ve got a really good team. ... We hung in there when we had to and AJ, that was special. That was really, really special.”
Green shot 8-for-11 from the field and made four of five 3-point attempts over the final 20 minutes as he was locked into a zone few basketball players can ever find.
“It’s just hooping really,” Green said. “You’ve just got to trust all the work you’ve put in and just go out there and do what you do when no one is in the gym and you’re just there by yourself.”
Drake had built a five-point lead four minutes into the second half before Green sparked UNI’s first of multiple responses with his four-point play.
Green eventually put the Panthers up four, 54-50, with a pull-up jumper and a difficult step-back 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer. Tywhon Pickford then went over the top of Robbins, one of the nation’s top shot blockers, for an emphatic dunk off a Haldeman bounce pass that sent the McLeod Center decibel level through the roof as UNI led, 59-56.
Drake responded with a timely 8-0 run capped by a traditional three-point play from Anthony Murphy to take a 66-61 lead with 6:56 remaining.
Green, however, refused to fade. He opened a game-changing 13-0 run with a step-back 3-pointer, followed by a go-ahead bank off the drive and another 3-pointer. Haldeman later worked the clock down and hit a 3-pointer off a crossover dribble to cap the surge as UNI led 76-68 with 1:36 to play and continued to hit shots down the stretch.
“AJ is a good player for a reason,” Drake coach Darian DeVries said. “He made some really tough shots tonight and our guys I thought they really competed trying to slow him down, but he was just a little better than we were. That second half he was as good as it gets.
“I thought we played with really good composure. We moved the ball and we didn’t settle. We went deep in the clock sometimes to find the shot that we wanted. It was just hard to keep up. (Green’s) threes for twos, it wasn’t adding up on the scoreboard very well.”
Inspired by playing in front of the type of crowd he first witnessed following the 2009-10 UNI Sweet 16 team that was honored during the first half, Green has continued to etch his own name into Panther lore.
“I think ever since probably that 2010 team and Tut’s (Seth Tuttle) team for sure when they were getting sold out, that’s when I knew I want to be out there one day playing in front of a crowd like this,” Green said. “The fans showed out tonight. It was amazing.
“It’s a family here. That’s our culture, so them (the 2010 team) being back, we definitely had to get a win for them because they’ve done so much for this program.”
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.
UNI 83, Drake 73
Drake Mn FG-A FT-A Rb As PF TP
Robbins 34 8-16 1-2 6 2 4 17
Wilkins 36 5-13 2-2 3 3 2 16
Murphy 32 6-10 1-1 7 1 3 15
Penn 36 5-9 2-4 4 8 2 12
Jackson 16 2-5 0-0 0 0 2 6
Thomas 14 1-2 0-0 1 0 1 3
Sturtz 24 1-1 0-0 2 1 2 2
Pilipovic 6 1-2 0-0 0 1 4 2
Jones 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0
Totals 200 29-58 6-9 27 16 20 73
UNI Mn FG-A FT-A Rb As PF TP
Phyfe 29 3-5 2-4 5 1 4 8
Green 36 12-21 4-4 4 3 0 34
Berhow 37 4-8 7-8 4 0 1 18
Brown 32 2-8 3-5 2 1 1 7
Haldeman 32 3-3 4-4 5 1 1 12
Dahl 11 1-4 0-0 6 2 2 2
Kimmons 6 0-2 0-0 2 0 0 0
Pickford 17 1-1 0-1 4 0 1 2
Carter 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0
Totals 200 26-52 20-26 35 8 10 83
Drake 39 34 – 73
N. Iowa 35 48 – 83
3-point goals – Drake 9-22 (Robbins 0-2, Wilkins 4-8, Murphy 2-4, Penn 0-2, Jackson 2-4, Thomas 1-1 Pilipovic 0-1), UNI 11-19 (Green 6-9, Berhow 3-4, Brown 0-3, Haldeman 2-2, Kimmons 0-1). Blocks – Drake 3 (Robbins 3), UNI 3 (Dahl 2). Turnovers – Drake 6 (six at 1), UNI 9 (Phyfe 5). Steals – Drake 4 (Penn 2), UNI 4 (four at 1).
Officials – Durham, O’Neill, Campbell. Att. – 6,497.
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