By: Sammy Stava
Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson was in unfamiliar territory Thursday night in St. Louis at the Scottrade Center. For the first time in his 12-year career at UNI, his Panthers team was playing in the first round at the MVC Tournament.
Though playing under that scenario didn’t seem to rattle this Northern Iowa squad. This is, indeed the same Panthers team that made an impressive run at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament back in November, beating SMU, N.C. State, and then giving Villanova a fight in that championship game.
Now, as the calendar turns to March, every college basketball team’s goal this time of year is to “survive and advance.” That’s exactly what Northern Iowa did tonight, beating No. 8 Evansville 60-50 to advance to MVC Quarterfinal Friday.
Not only did the Panthers win, they won in impressive and convincing fashion. It was an impressive defensive performance from Northern Iowa, as they held MVC leading scorer Ryan Taylor to a season-low two points. Taylor came in averaging 22 points per game and his previous season low was 10.
“I thought our team defense was as good as we’ve had against Evansville, and we needed that tonight,” Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said. That’s quite a strong statement, given the fact the Panthers only allowed 41 points in a 47-41 win over the Aces back on February 13th. It was the rubber match between these two schools, and Northern Iowa came out with the victory.
It was also a milestone victory for Ben Jacobson. He recorded his 250th career win, all at Northern Iowa.
The Panthers (16-15) will live to see another day, but they will have a daunting task as they take on No. 1 Loyola (25-5) tomorrow at noon. How daunting? Well, a No. 8/No. 9 seed has never beaten the No. 1 seed in MVC Tournament history.
Could it happen this year? League coaches believe so. “These teams playing tonight can win four games in four days. I wouldn’t put it past anybody to win on Sunday,” Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Thursday night as great as it is,” said Loyola head coach Porter Moser, whose Ramblers will play Northern Iowa tomorrow.