CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Illinois State's basketball team came out Wednesday night and stayed right with Northern Iowa for the first eight minutes.
The next 10-plus minutes were pure torture for the struggling Redbirds.
UNI went on a 25-0 run, expanding a 15-14 lead to 40-14 late in the first half. ISU tried to stage a late rally but it was much too late as the Panthers beat the Redbirds, 83-72, before a McLeod Center crowd of 3,762.
“We have got to get to the point where we're tired of playing a half or waiting to get down to start playing,” said ISU junior Keyshawn Evans. “Everybody as a whole has to start caring a little bit more.”
Evans busted out of a shooting slump in the second half and scored 21 of his game-high 25 points to lead the Redbirds. He sank 6 of 11 3-pointers, including 5 of 8 after the intermission.
Milik Yarbrough, who was questionable because of a sore right toe, contributed 20 points and tied his career high with 13 rebounds. ISU has now lost five of its last seven games, falling to 10-11 overall and 4-5 in the Valley.
“It (the toe) was hurting bad. It was hard to push off it,” said Yarbrough. “I had to battle through it and tough through it for my brothers. It is what it is.”
UNI (11-10, 3-6) was led by sophomore guard Isaiah Brown's career-high 20 points points while senior center Bennett Koch had 17 and junior guard Wyatt Lohaus 14. It was a season-high point total for the Panthers and the ninth time ISU has allowed 80 or more points.
The Panthers held ISU without a basket for 10:31 during the decisive surge.
“Northern Iowa was terrific today. Obviously when you have a 25-0 run against you, you don't win many games,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “I'm glad we fought to the end. We caught Northern Iowa where they were outstanding and made a bunch of shots, and we didn't respond very well.”
When Yarbrough sank his second 3-pointer with 12:52 left in the first half, the game was tied at 13-all. Klint Carlson's 10-foot jumper in the lane put UNI ahead before Keyshawn Evans split a pair of free throws, drawing the Redbirds within 15-14 with 11:58 left.
What followed might be on UNI's season highlight film.
ISU proceeded to turn the ball over on four of its next six possessions. Brown's four-point play put UNI ahead, 24-14, but the onslaught was just beginning.
When fifth-year Panther senior Ted Friedman sank his first career 3-pointer for a 30-14 lead, the Redbirds should have figured something was up.
ISU missed 11 straight shots until Yarbrough finally ended the drought, converting inside with 2:21 left. The half couldn't end soon enough, though, as UNI raced to its locker room with a 41-19 lead.
“We couldn't make a shot. That's on us,” said Yarbrough. “We have to make shots. We've done it all season, make shots and a lot of 3s. They made a lot of tough shots and lot of of people who don't make 3s were making 3s. Give them credit. They came out and competed at a high level.”
The Redbirds shot 25.9 percent from the field, going 3 of 11 outside the arc, and committed 10 turnovers in the first half. UNI's field goal percentage wasn't outstanding (.424), but the Panthers sank 7 of 15 3-pointers.
“It was a really good half for us. I don't know if one (offense or defense) overshadowed the other,” said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. “We haven't had a lot of halves where both have been really good. That first half certainly was one of them for us.”
The first half was reminiscent of Saturday when Indiana State went on an early 17-0 run to take a 15-point halftime lead over the Redbirds.
“That's two games in a row where the other team really went on a surge,” said Muller. “Both ends of the court can hurt you. But there's two ways to stop runs: scoring and stopping the other team. We have a handful of guys when the pressure is on us are not making shots or plays. We had too many turnovers again. A lot of our turnovers were unforced.”
UNI built the lead to 51-24 on Carlson's 3-pointer and the lead got as high as 31 on Lohaus' 3-pointer for a 62-31 advantage with 13:24 left.
But ISU didn't quit. A 10-0 run, capped by Evans' 3-pointer, cut the deficit to 76-64 with 2:59 left. But that was as close as the Redbirds would get until Evans drove inside for a layup to end the scoring with 27 seconds left.
“The coaches are coaching their butts off. They're telling us what to do,” said Evans. “We're just not caring enough to be consistent and play for each other and be all in as far as our effort and consistency. We have to pick it up. The coaches can only do so much.”
ISU entertains Valparaiso at 9 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN2.