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Panthers fight back down double digits, fall to Colonels in season opener

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UNI MBBall Media Day 13

Northern Iowa men's basketball media day at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls.

Nothing that Ben Jacobson saw during the week of practices or scrimmages told the future of what happened on Tuesday night.

Northern Iowa's ball movement wasn't going the direction it wanted it to. Its best player missed his first 13 shots from the field. Its defense played well enough to make it close throughout.

It just wasn't enough.

Behind a stretch of consecutive points from Ty Gordon, Nicholls State held off the Panthers 62-58 to pull off the upset inside the McLeod Center to open the 2021-22 college basketball season.

"Not the start we're looking for or thought we'd have tonight," Jacobson, entering his 16th season at the helm of UNI's program, said. "We got stuck offensively. A lot of good shots that did not go in and then we got slowed down and didn't get the ball moving side-to-side."

Gordon took over when the Colonels (1-0) was clinging to a two-point lead. The senior guard went on a personal 11-0 run to balloon their lead to 13 points in the final three minutes of the game.

"He is really good," Jacobsen said. "We had him contained him, enough, in the first 30 minutes."

Yet the Panthers (0-1) refused to go away without making one last push.

Aided by Nicholls State missing free throws, Antwan Kimmons was getting to his style of play by driving into the lane, drawing contact and getting to the charity stripe.

Kimmons, who missed all of last season while helping his family, scored with 61 seconds remaining to make it a one-possession game. He then had three straight free throws to keep the game with a basket.

The Colonels made three of their four free throws in the last 10 seconds to take away any hope of a UNI comeback.

"Once we get our offense starting, it is tough to guard," senior guard Trae Berhow said. "Biggest thing we're going to see is people try to deny the ball for us to get into our full offense."

AJ Green, the preseason Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, finished 1-for-14 from the field for UNI and limited to four points. Jacobson felt like the shots were good shots Green took.

He was quick to note that the shots he attempted on Tuesday are the ones that go in when practice is happening.

"He had a good looks, especially in the first half," Jacobson said. "More just playing for the first time in a long time, as opposed to pressing."

Austin Phyfe led the Panthers with 20 points – 15 of them in the first half – and pulled in a team best seven rebounds. When the offense was moving side-to-side, it was successful and usually finished with a Phyfe bucket.

"We were playing up and down," Phyfe said. "We stopped doing that in a way. We knew they would pressure us."

UNI took a quick 12-4 lead in the first five minutes. Nicholls State responded with three straight possessions capped by 3-pointers to tie the game at 15. It was tied at 29 after the first half.

It remained tied at 38, at which point Jacobson was feeling pretty good. Still, the offense could never find the flow it did in the opening few minutes.

"When you're on your home floor and the other team as 38, you feel like you're going to be in a pretty good spot," Jacobson said. "Tonight, it wasn't that night."

It was a sense of being back to the old normal with more than just a few hundred fans in the stands. There were no cardboard cutouts to been seen. Did that play a role?

"Seeing people, it really brings a lot of joy," Phyfe said.

It is only the first game and UNI has a quick turnaround to face Vermont in a contest on Thursday. Jacobson sees the positives of that.

"To be able to come right back and get out and do it again," he said. "It probably is (a good thing)."


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