UE blew a 14-point lead and trailed briefly in the second half Wednesday before knocking off Northern Iowa 62-59 on the Panthers’ home court. It wasn’t pretty, but the Aces secured their third straight win once Northern Iowa senior Anthony James’ open 3-pointer rattled out at the buzzer.
Said UE senior Troy Taylor: “We just made sure we won the game. That was our main focus – to come here and win. No matter how we win, we just wanted to get the ‘W.’”
The Aces knew Northern Iowa would come back. “It’s just about how we’d respond to it,” Taylor said. “We could have easily gotten down and they could have gone on a 20-0 run, but we have four seniors on our team with experience. It’s our job to make sure everything stays in control and they don’t pull away – have to make sure the younger players don’t get caught up with the crowd.”
Northern Iowa made two big runs in the second half, the first when bench players hit 4 of 6 3-pointers and then again when James, who led the Panthers with 19 points, scored his team’s last 10. “They’re a very good team offensively and defensively,” said UE senior Colt Ryan. “They’re very cerebral, and they’ll switch it up throughout the game. They were doing things differently at the beginning of the game from the end defensively. Offensively, they try to find something that’s working, and as soon as they find it’s working, they’ll go back to it five, six times until someone stops it. Coaches got a good scout on them, and we were fortunate to get stops.”
Once James gave Northern Iowa its only lead of the second half, UE senior Lewis Jones answered with an offensive rebound, basket and a foul with 27 seconds left. “(Jones is) just one of those players who can score anytime he’s going to the rim,” Taylor said. “He might be one of the strongest players I’ve ever played with. Him going to the rim is so un-guardable because the way he goes up is strong. The way he got that and-one at the end of the game with three guys on him, and he still got the ball to the rim and got the roll – - Lewis Jones is a big key.”
The Aces made all 11 of their second half free throw attempts and 12 of 13 in the game while Northern Iowa missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities in the final minute. “We mentioned that at the beginning of the year – that we feel like we can be one of the best free throw shooting teams, not even in the league, but in the nation,” Ryan said. “It’s a free shot, and we work on it every day. They can be the difference in close ball games like tonight’s.”
UE hadn’t won in Cedar Falls, Iowa, for 10 years before last season. Now the Aces have made it two in a row. “We’re just out here playing to be known as a good team, and we feel like we’re one of the top, if not the top teams in the conference. I feel like on any given night, we can compete with any team and win. We’ve got a lot of good players. They just need to be consistent.”
The Aces entered 1-4 this season on the road with losses at Notre Dame, Colorado State, Butler and Creighton. Three of four were ranked. MVC play is never easy, either. “The Valley in general is just a tough place to play on the road,” Ryan said. “Teams are great. Crowds are usually pretty good-sized, and they get into the game. It’s tough. People want to protect their home floors. We know that, and they know that.”