Panthers Win 2OT Thriller for 2nd Straight W 72-69

Bennett Koch had another big game with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal.

Showing a level of toughness that just hasn’t been there for most of the season, UNI overcame some late mistakes to win in double overtime over the Loyola Ramblers 72-69. A crowd of 3934 got the McLeod for 10 minutes of free basketball and a vintage UNI effort defensively.

“They had their way with us a couple weeks ago,” said head coach Ben Jacobson,”they got some open 3s tonight, but that’s just because they’re a good team, they will get some of those. We kept Doyle out of the lane for the most part tonight, and that was huge because it really hurt us at their place.”

The Panthers gave up 77 to Loyola in a regulation loss 2 weeks ago, but the defense put the clamps on tonight. Tonight it took the Ramblers 50 minutes just to reach the 69 point mark. Loyola came into the night shooting 51.1% from the field this season; good for 4th nationally in shooting percentage. UNI was able to hold them 43.1% shooting and held Milton Doyle to 12 points (3-17 FG) and 9 turnovers. Donte Ingram lead the way for Loyola with 19 points on 7-15 shooting (5-11 3PT) to go with 9 boards.

“We’re doing the fundamental things better these last few games. There is a level of group toughness that is developing that just hasn’t been there to this point.”

Bennett Koch was definitely the difference maker for UNI. After playing only a few minutes in the first half after getting 2 quick fouls, Bennett was a force over the remaining 30 minutes of basketball.

“I was really frustrated in the first half. When we went into the locker room at half my teammates told me that was selfish, that I needed to stay in the game and stay locked in.”

He was only 3-10 from the field, but also 15-17 from the free throw line to give him his 21 points. Bennett was also a focal point on the glass where he had 9 boards (5 offensive). He was a big part of UNI winning the rebounding battle for the second straight game 37-33.

“He did a great job in that second half,” said Coach Jake,” to go to the bench early in the game and have to sit, then to reinsert yourself into the game in the second half and play like that, that’s huge for him. He’s had two games in a row now where he has been playing at a really high level.”

As always, Jeremy Morgan was a key contributor for the Panthers. JMo poured in 17 points shooting 5-10 from the field (2-5 3PT), and he padded his stats elsewhere with 8 boards, 4 assists, and 4 steals. His defense on Milton Doyle for most of the night was a huge reason why UNI was able to pick up with win.

“We’re playing at a much higher level than we were two weeks ago,” said the Panther star post game, “we were just talking about what a huge turnaround that was in two weeks, that’s huge.”

Luke McDonnell and Klint Carlson complimented themselves very well tonight. Luke brought the “luuuuuuke” chants back to the McLeod Center for the first time in nearly 6 years with his first half effort; scoring 9 in the first half before he finished with a career high 13. While Klint wasn’t scoring tonight, he did pretty much everything else for the purple and gold. Carlson had 2 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, and a steal as he played all 50 minutes of this one.

“Klint has had a different way about him the last four games we’ve played. That’s what he expects form himself. Obviously he played great the last month and a half of last season, but that was in a different role. That team didn’t need him to do that. Now he’s starting to figure out what this team needs from him.”

“With Bennett getting two early, our offense had been missing some open three point shots and Luke was able to get us some points in the paint. He’s played a couple good games in a row now too, and to have another guy to throw in that mix is important.”

It can’t be said loudly enough or seriously enough, this season is not over. UNI was sitting at 2-5 a year ago Friday after a 19 point home loss to Wichita State on a Wenesday night. They followed that up with a 9 point loss at Illinois State 2 days later to fall to 2-6, and the season seemed lost as they had lost 4 straight. That team then continued to ring up wins in 13 of their next 14 games before falling in a heartbreaker to Texas A&M in the round of 32. The vibe has changed with this team, it’s taken Coach Jake 18 games, but he has finally found the right formula for these guys to string together wins. To be honest, it isn’t all that different of an equation from last season. Last year it was 3 guys playing virtually the entire game and a few key role players getting 20-30 minutes. Same story with different guys, as the 3 main guys have changed from Paul Jesperson, Matt Bohannon, and Wes Washpun to Jeremy Morgan, Klint Carlson, and Jordan Ashton. Instead of Jeremy, Klint, and Wyatt getting the key minutes it has become Bennett and Spencer Haldeman getting most of the attention with freshmen Isaiah Brown, Juwan McCloud, and Luke McDonnell filling in the gaps.

The opportunity is there because of a cluttered middle of the pack in the MVC, leaving UNI 2 games out of 3rd place with 11 games left to go. It’s time for the veterans to lead the ship and make sure the younger guys have all hands on deck, because it’s going to be a crazy ride down the stretch!