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UNI MEN’S BASKETBALL

UNI's Green struggles in first game back, Kimmons finds groove late

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AJ Green and Antwan Kimmons each were without the game of basketball for an extended period of time last season.

Both of the Northern Iowa guards suited up for the first three games of the season in 2020, but were absent for the rest of the season. Green had season-ending hip surgery, while Kimmons went back home to Minnesota to help his family.

Rust was clear from the start. One of them shook it off, the other still has 20-plus games to figure it out.

“More first game back in a long time, as opposed to pressing,” Panthers head coach Ben Jacobson said about their return.

Green missed his first 13 shots from the field and finished with four points, one of the lowest marks of his career, while Kimmons started to create contact in the lane to draw fouls.

It was Kimmons’ late-game performance that nearly brought UNI back from a 10-point deficit, but the hole was too big to overcome in a 62-58 season-opening setback to Nicholls State at the McLeod Center.

“If there was a little, if you want to call it rust, that we’ve gotten through that,” Jacobson said. “At the end, his speed was a factor and we need to work to have that be a factor all night.”

Kimmons was quiet at the start, then turned it up a notch when the Panthers needed a spark. On several possessions in the final two minutes of the contest, the sophomore was driving into the paint and getting fouls called.

He went 4-of-7 from the free throw line and scored five straight points to bring UNI to within a possession. Kimmons finished with six points and three rebounds.

“He brings the energy that no one else brings,” senior Trae Berhow said. “You could tell he was a little more jittery. He caught his rhythm, got comfortable.”

Green had one of those nights where nothing was falling. He missed his first 13 shots from the field and didn’t get into the score column until a free throw with 9 minutes, 10 seconds left in the second half.

He finally connected on a field goal, hitting a bank shot in the lane in the final five minutes of the second half.

“We want him to take the shots he did and we all trust he’ll knock them down,” Panthers big man Austin Phyfe said.

When Green couldn’t get his shots to fall, everyone else followed through. The lone exception, particularly in the first half, was Phyfe. The Waverly-Shell Rock grad had 15 of his team-high 20 points in the first 20 minutes.

“Phyfe was really important,” Jacobson said. “We got the ball turned over that midline a couple times and we didn’t throw it to him. We’ve got to make sure we’ve always got an eye on him.”

One game does not equal pressing the panic button. Green, the preseason Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, likely won’t have a performance that mirrors that the rest of the season.

His teammates are sure of that.

“I can almost tell you guys that AJ Green will not let that happen again,” Berhow said.

Jacobson admitted afterwards the offense was “stuck” and the ball movement was not going side-to-side like he wants it to on a regular basis. Those are adjustments for next game.

And if Green and Kimmons can get their respective shots falling, the 16th-year head coach will see that as just a bonus.

“I did not see this coming,” Jacobson said. “It wasn’t that night where offensively we had enough going to make things go our way.”

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