UNI exposes Huskies’ weaknesses on defense even as second half saw improvements

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The Huskie defense locks down UNI sophomore guard AJ Green Saturday during NIU’s 64-54 loss against University of Northern Iowa at the Convocation Center.

Jarrett Huff

DeKALB — The men’s basketball defense was put to the test Saturday against the University of Northern Iowa. The team seemed to run out of gas toward the end of both halves, letting the Panthers run away with the game.

Coming into the game, Head Coach Mark Montgomery emphasised shutting down UNI Sophomore AJ Green and redshirt senior Spencer Haldeman, as both players are threats from beyond the three point arc. The team was clearly on board with that part of the game plan.

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The Huskies didn’t give either player an inch of room throughout the first half, always making sure someone was on them immediately when they caught the ball. Green was held to four points on 2-6 shooting in the first, missing both of his three-point attempts. Haldeman was only able to attempt one shot, missing it. His only contribution to the point total was two points off a pair of free throws.

While NIU was focused on UNI’s backcourt, UNI’s frontcourt was able to put a lot of distance between them and the Huskies on the scoreboard. A big part of that was the Panthers’ ability to stretch the floor. UNI was taking advantage of the switches NIU was employing to stay in front of Green and Haldeman. This allowed for a lot of mismatches and blown defensive assignments for NIU that let up easy buckets inside for UNI. At times the Huskies looked lost defensively in the first.

UNI senior guard Isaiah Brown was the main culprit of NIU’s 16-point deficit at the end of the first. Brown, a career 30.8% three-point shooter, was lights out in the first half. He had 11 points on 4-5 shooting, including 3-3 from beyond the arc. He was left open several times, as the Huskies seemed to ignore him when he sat open behind the three-point arc. There was a glaring disparity in how Brown was guarded compared to UNI’s backcourt.

“They’ll go over the top with [Green, and Haldeman] in particular, and most of the time with Trae [Berhow],” UNI Head Coach Ben Jacobson said. “They’ll go under with [Tywhon Pickford]; they’ll go under with [Brown]. They’ll just try to meet them on the other side, not as concerned about the three-point shot.”

By the end of the game, Brown had 17 points on 6-8 shooting and shot 83.3% from behind the arc. NIU seemed to adjust to him a bit in the second half, giving him only three shots, but allowing him to hit two big threes to shutdown a late Huskie run.

Midway through the second half, the Huskies were down 18. The team started to make stops on defense, allowing NIU to go on a nine-point run, eventually cutting UNI’s lead to seven. Montgomery attributes the change to telling his players to be more aggressive.

“We had to guard the ball a lot better, and get a little more aggressive,” Montogomery said. “We started pushing their five-man off the elbow and off the top of the key.”

The Huskies were able to hold the Panthers to 31% shooting in the second half, and 26.7% from behind the arc, a major improvement from allowing 50% shooting and 41.7% from behind the arc in the first half.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, they never got closer than seven points. The Panthers started hitting big shots, eventually returning their lead to double digits. The Huskies just seemed to run out of gas in the final minutes, putting a lot of energy into their offense that was desperately trying to catch back up. The Huskies lost 64-54.

The defense needed to come out more aggressive in the first half. Had it played with the intensity it did in the second half, they wouldn’t have had to come back from as large of a deficit, possibly allowing for a chance to take the lead late in the second half, and a more patient offense.

“I thought our defense in the second half is how we have to play throughout the whole game when you hold them to under 30% and under 27% from three,” Montgomery said. “That’s the intensity you have to play for for 40 minutes to win a Division 1 college game.”