In Cedar Falls, Iowa, another upset looked to be in the works for the Illinois State University men’s basketball team against Northern Iowa.
The first time these two teams met, the Redbirds walked away with a 76-70 win on Dec. 31. After jumping out to a 20-12 lead for the Redbirds, it once again looked like an upset could be in the cards.
But a late first-half breakdown charged by UNI’s AJ Green led the Redbirds to drop their 10-straight road game 71-63 at the McLeod Center Feb. 12.
Green was the true difference-maker, dropping 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting in the Panthers' 14th straight home win of the year.
Redshirt sophomore Dedric Boyd saw Green as the catalyst for UNI.
“The only guy that we guard differently is AJ Green, he can flat out score,” Boyd said.
The Redbirds had one of their best starts of the year. Jaycee Hillsman, Keith Fisher III and DJ Horne began the game combining for 6-8 shooting, giving the Redbirds a 15-8 lead with a little over 15 minutes left.
ISU 15, UNI 8 | 14:57 First HalfThe Redbirds are off to arguably the best start to a game they've had this season. Jaycee Hillsman, Keith Fisher III, and DJ Horne begin the game combining for 6-8 shooting, having all of the points thus far for the Redbirds.#REDBIRDhoops— Vidette Sports (@Vidette_Sports) February 13, 2020
Horne's hot start was key for the Redbirds. Over the first 10 minutes, the freshman point guard posted 11 of the first 22 ISU points. Horne was key leading with 16 points and six rebounds.
Despite being a freshman, Muller views Horne as more advanced than that.
“He is so talented. The future is bright for him,” Muller said. “He is gaining consistency. He won’t have a breakout game and then play poorly the next as he has. DJ is not playing like a freshman.”
But despite the hot start, the Redbirds quickly cooled off as they allowed the Panthers to quickly catch up 22-19 with 10 minutes left in the first half.
ISU fought back, scoring six straight points. But the Redbirds fell stone cold after that, allowing the Panthers to go on a 25-8 scoring run.
UNI 40, ISU 33 | HalftimeThe Panthers go on an 11-0 run in the final three minutes of the first half, as the Redbirds just completely fell apart. #REDBIRDhoops— Vidette Sports (@Vidette_Sports) February 13, 2020
UNI picked it up in the final four minutes of the half going on an 11-0 run to go up 40-33 at half time. A key play in that run was a wide-open three pointer from Tywhon Pickford that marked just the fourth deep ball of the season for the junior guard.
Down by double digits throughout the second half, the Redbirds went on an 8-0 run to pull themselves 53-51, capped off with a Boyd three pointer.
Boyd finished as the Redbird's second-leading scorer with 11 points.
“Dedric comes in and gives us great minutes. He has been playing well in practice so that is why he has been getting more trust,” Muller said. “[There is] a lot to build off of.”
After the Redbirds pulled within two, UNI went on a 10 run that the Redbirds were never able to recover from.
Despite the loss, Muller thought the Redbirds fought well against the No. 1 team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“I like the fight of the guys. They played with confidence, together and the right way,” Muller said. “I thought [Isaiah] Brown and Pickford did a great job on Zach [Copeland] and he had a tough shooting night as we can see. DJ started off hot and they flipped other guys on him.”