Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson talked during Monday’s Missouri Valley Conference call about this week’s game against UE at the Ford Center. The Aces (12-9, 5-4 MVC) and Panthers (11-10, 4-5 MVC) tip at 7 p.m. Tuesday in their second meeting this season.
Northern Iowa enters off a loss Saturday at Indiana State. The Panthers didn’t get a chance to go home between then and Tuesday’s game in Evansville. “It’s certainly something that I’ve thought about, and it’s a bit of a concern because you’re sitting around and don’t have a lot to do,” Jacobson said. “At the same time, with it being this time of the year where you’re traveling quite a bit for road games in and out of town, that’s just part of your schedule. This one’s a little bit different because you’ve got an extra day and a half where you’re sitting around at the same place. We’re able to now, today, just approach it like a regular road trip with our film. We’ll get a practice session in at the arena, get some film when we get back, and from this point forward we can treat it like a normal trip.”
The Panthers are the first of the nine MVC teams UE will see for a second time this season. Earlier this month, the Aces held off a late Northern Iowa run on the road. Jacobson looks back at it: “We didn’t play very well offensively. In the first half they slowed us down with what they were doing at the defensive end of the floor. We didn’t handle it well enough, even into the start of the second half. From an offensive standpoint we finally got some things opened up a bit. We did more things with the ball screens and created some space on the floor so we could run some offense. I think that’s an important part of it for us. We’ve got to be able to create some space on the floor. If we play offense inside of 15 feet, there’s too many people in there and the game gets bogged down too much.”
The two players Northern Iowa will key on, Jacobson said, are Aces seniors Colt Ryan (17.2 ppg) and Troy Taylor (7.3 rpg): “Both of those things need to be dealt with. Ryan has proved for a long time now that he’s the kind of guy who’s going to score points, and he’s done it every way possible – making 3s, off the dribble, and they kind of pin down stuff for him to get jump shots. He gets to the free throw line. That’s where I think sometimes, he and the team in general do such a good job. And then they shoot, I think it’s right around 80 percent they shoot from the free throw line. Then in transition and rebounding, Taylor’s been very effective. As we all know, the job they do as a team at both ends of the floor in understanding their roles and what they’re trying to do as a group – they do as good a job of that as anybody in the country.”
Illinois State shot 18 more free throws than UE on Saturday while beating the Aces 67-62. Jacobson on the importance of that stat for Tuesday: “That’s something that we’re all trying to do every night in terms of winning that free throw battle – that free throw number. Each one of our teams goes into the game with the thought, ‘If we can make more free throws than the other team, we’re going to have the upper hand and a better chance to win that game.’ How you go about doing that is different each night because of who you’re playing.
“I think with Evansville, it’s a combination of those two things. You’ve got to find a way to create angles so you can put yourself on the free throw line. And then at the other end, we’ve got to do a good job tomorrow of getting our defense back and not allowing opportunities in transition. And then you’ve got to guard them well, and you’ve got to guard them with a big portion of that shot clock without fouling them. Because they use so many screens in that motion, that’s a hard thing to do.”
Jacobson on the respect level between he and UE’s Marty Simmons, as well as how that got started: “We had met each other but didn’t know each other very well until Marty had been there and I’d gotten our head job. I think it’s a couple things. How hard they play defensively, and then the patience and understanding about what they’re working to get done offensively. I think at both ends, from a program standpoint, the understanding that the team has individually of where they fit as a team and how they do things collectively. Those are things that I’ve got a lot of respect for, and Marty does the job of getting his team to play that way and understand their roles as good as any team in the country.”