UNI ignites offense to sweep away Braves, 90-77

CEDAR FALLS – The start of the third battle with the Braves was a far cry from the first two.

Though the early role-reversal seemed to light a fire under a hot-shooting Panther squad that ensured the final result was the same as before.

After jumping out to early double-digit leads in its regular season sweep over Bradley, the Northern Iowa men’s basketball team had to play catch-up Tuesday.

Opening the second half with a 13-4 run, the Panthers’ offense fired on cylinders after halftime for a 90-77 victory in quarterfinal action of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament at the McLeod Center.

UNI (21-14) will host a semifinal game Saturday at 7 p.m. against the winner of Oral Roberts (20-14) and Weber State (28-6), which tips off tonight at 8 p.m.

Trailing by 10 late in the first half, the Panthers took off in the second half shooting 63 percent (19-of-30) from the field and 7-for-11 (64 percent) from beyond the arc to finish 12-of-24 in the game.

“That’s as good an offensive half as we’ve had,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said.

“We had 20 minutes where what we tried to run seemed to work and when it didn’t work somebody made a shot anyway – even when they defended us well.”

Everything seemed to work for Anthony James who tallied 18 of his game-high 21 points after halftime. James’ corner 3-pointer capped the Panthers’ early surge to open a 53-44 advantage less than five minutes in.

The Braves (18-17) twice pulled within six though UNI’s offense – and James in particular – continually had an answer. Matt Bohannon, Marvin Singleton and James each connected from deep during an 11-5 flurry to push the margin to 12 before another triple from James and a putback from Seth Tuttle gave the Panthers a 78-64 lead with 6:12 to play.

“There was a handful of times where AJ just rose up and knocked in a couple of big shots for us,” Jacobson said of James, who made 4-of-5 3-point attempts in the second half.

“Those are big shots. When it’s a five, six point game and two or three different times AJ just rises up and makes a three. … That’s tough to continue to come back from.”

UNI’s lead never dipped below double digits the rest of the way as five Panthers finished in double figures. Tuttle tallied 19 points and nine rebounds, while Jake Koch added 14. Marc Sonnen scored 13 points and moved within three treys of tying the school’s career-record of made 3-pointers (203) held by Jacobson. Deon Mitchell added 10 points and eight assists as the Panthers committed just four turnovers.

Slow starts plagued the Braves in the first two meetings, but that was far from the case Tuesday.

Opening 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, Bradley used a 15-5 run to grab a 29-19 advantage with 7:05 to play in the half. The Braves shot 7-for-12 from deep in the opening stanza including a 4-of-4 start from Walt Lemon Jr., who poured in 17 of his team-high 19 points before the break.

“They just came out with more intensity,” UNI guard Deon Mitchell said of Bradley’s quick start.

“We picked it up in the end. That’s something we need to work on every game – being ready from the start and not trying to wait until halftime.”

The Panthers countered the Braves’ blitz with a 7-0 spurt, before Lemon Jr. buried back-to-back treys. Marc Sonnen started and finished a 12-3 rally with a 3-pointer as the Panthers claimed a 40-38 edge with 1:11 remaining. Lemon Jr., who scored the Braves’ last 11 points, slipped in for a layup in the closing seconds to knot the score at halftime.

Will Egolf added 17 points, but was forced to the bench after picking up his third foul with 16:19 to play, while Tyshon Pickett had 16 points and nine rebounds.

Though Jacobson wasn’t pleased his team’s defensive performance early, it brought out the desired pace he’d like to see more often from his squad at the other end.

“Because Bradley scored so well the first 10 minutes of the game, it got to be a little more in the open floor,” Jacobson said.

“I really like that for our offense. I’d prefer – as our guys would – to play that way offensively, be able to play in transition more and have a more open game.”


Tuesday’s scoring output was the second highest point total for the Panthers this year and 24 above their season average. The 90 points was second only to an 103-point effort against Wartburg. … UNI improved to 16-3 at home, boosting their single season record for home wins. … The Panthers earned their 20th win of the season Saturday – a 63-51 second round victory against Illinois Chicago – marking the first time that the Iowa State, Iowa and Northern Iowa men’s basketball teams have all reached the 20-win plateau in the same season. … UNI has won 18 or more games the past 10 season.