UNI Blitzes Bradley 76-62
ST. LOUIS – Northern Iowa has its swagger back.
The top-seeded Panthers exuded that confidence on both ends of the floor in their 76-62 defeat of Bradley in the first semi-final of the Missouri Valley Conference.
“I think that speaks to a lot of guys and different guys are making big plays down the stretch,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said.
After losing four of its first six to begin February, UNI has now picked up its third win against a RPI Top 100 team in the last 11 days.
“I don’t think we were that far off when we hit that little skid there,” Panthers forward Adam Koch said.
Koch finished with a game-high 22 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 29 minutes of action. Jacobson, the normally reserved and emotion-free coach of the Panthers, gave the Tiger Woods fist pump on several occasions while patrolling the UNI bench.
“I think they got that look in their eye that they wanted it more and once they got going, they were tough to stop,” Bradley forward Theron Wilson said.
Bracketography.com editor currently has UNI as a 13-seed in our latest bracket projection, and the common thinking is that the Panthers’ only shot to make the Big Dance is to win Sunday.
“I think that’s probably true but I don’t think we feel any extra pressure because of that,” Koch said. “Playing in the final is a first time thing for a lot of us and so that’s really exciting.”
The Panthers (22-10) coach was an assistant under Greg McDermott the last time UNI won the league tournament.
“The goal is not to play tomorrow – the goal is to win,” Jacobson said.
After Bradley had been held scoreless for over four minutes, A 10-4 run late in the second half that ended with a three-point play by UNI point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe gave the Panthers an insurmountable 66-52 lead with only 4:07 to go.
“We were really fortunate our offense really got going in the second half,” Jacobson said. “We really benefited from Kwadzo’s ability to get to the basket.”
Ahelegbe contributed 21 points (15 of which in the second half) and the sophomore was a perfect 9-for-9 from the foul line.
UNI’s defense held Bradley’s attacking dribble penetration offense to 37 percent shooting and 4-of-19 from beyond the three-point arc. The Braves (18-14) had four players with two fouls when they went into the locker room at halftime, and that foul trouble led to Bradley head coach Jim Les going further into his bench than he might have liked.
“One of the major things we talked about (at halftime) and turned out to be a major factor was our inability to defend aggressively without fouling,” Les said.
Bradley sophomore guard Sam Maniscalco scored 14 points but was held to two in the second half. Wilson’s 16 points and eight rebounds led the Braves’ scoring effort.
Northern Iowa will compete for the league’s automatic berth against the winner of Creighton/Illinois State in the tournament final Sunday at 1 p.m.