CEDAR FALLS — Noah Carter initially looked to a veteran teammate for GPS coordinates after entering Saturday’s game against Evansville at an unfamiliar center position.
Northern Iowa’s 6-foot-6 freshman from Dubuque was inserted late in the first half during a response to the Purple Aces’ five-guard lineup. He provided a new wrinkle to UNI’s offense by staying at the top of the key after setting a screen and knocking down a 3-pointer before drawing a foul on another 3-point attempt.
A few practices at the start of the season accounted for the only work Carter had received at the position before being thrown into the fire.
“That’s not always easy for a first-year guy,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “He hasn’t had a lot of reps there.
“Evansville went to five guards and that pushed us to Noah in that spot. I’m glad that it did because it gives us another option there. Instead of always rolling to the basket, he can set that screen for one of our guards and he can stay behind it on the 3-point line.”
Carter and freshman classmate Antwan Kimmons, who has become proficient at navigating paths to the rim, combined to score 13 of UNI’s 16 points over a closing five-minute stretch that gave the Panthers a 14-point halftime lead. Their play sparked an offense that had accumulated just 14 points through the game’s first 15 minutes.
As UNI (19-3, 8-2 Missouri Valley Conference) begins the back half of league play, Jacobson has full confidence in the ability of his freshmen to give the team a lift.
“Those guys have earned it with the time that they’ve had,” Jacobson said. “We need those guys. You’re into February, so they’re past the point where everything is new to them, and we need them playing at a high level and playing with confidence. I’m all the way there. I trust those guys.”
Depth could be important when UNI returns to the road at 7 p.m. Wednesday for a game against Valparaiso (12-11, 5-5). The Crusaders took advantage of turnovers to build an 11-point late first-half lead in Cedar Falls. UNI’s lead scorer, AJ Green, then orchestrated a second-half comeback as part of his 29-point game.
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“A lot of the shots that Green hit against us were pretty well contested,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said during Monday’s MVC teleconference. “They were just big-time makes. We try to play percentages. Eliminate our mistakes and try to eliminate rotations as best as possible, keep a hand up on shooters and finish possessions with a rebound.”
John Kiser and Javon Freeman-Liberty of Valparaiso rank first and second among the MVC’s steal leaders with a combined total of 3.8 steals per game during league play. UNI sits last in MVC turnover margin at minus-3.2, while Valpo ranks second at plus-2.7.
“(Valparaiso’s defenders) were really disruptive defensively, getting their hands on balls and deflections,” Jacobson said. “That put them right into some run-outs before our defense could get back. Their activity level, their size and length at different positions, how hard they play, it’s a very hard defense to crack.”
Similar to UNI, Valparaiso has a freshman reserve coming off a standout performance. Ben Krikke, a 6-foot-9, 220-pounder, scored 17 points with eight rebounds in 24 minutes during an 80-70 Saturday home win over Illinois State.
The Crusaders will have a key addition to their lineup Wednesday in redshirt senior Ryan Fazekas, who was injured during the trip to Cedar Falls and has since returned for the last four games. Fazekas is shooting 47.6% from distance and averaging 10.3 points during league play.
“Fazekas is one of the best shooters in our league,” Jacobson said. “He’s a really good player on top of that.
“He helps them in more ways than just his ability to be an elite 3-point shooter. That adds a punch to their lineup. … Other guys have had to step in and expand their roles, so when you bring a key guy back like Fazekas, you’ve got guys around him that have more experience.”
Added depth has strengthened a Crusaders team that also features the second-leading scorer in MVC play in Freeman-Liberty (17.5 points per game).
“Right now I like our depth,” Lottich said. “It’s our biggest strength. We’re getting guys used to playing shorter stretches, but maybe at a higher speed.”
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.