CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — On a night Northern Iowa couldn’t seem to miss from outside the arc, it was only fitting someone named Trae led the way.
Sophomore guard Trae Berhow made five of UNI’s season-high 16 3-pointers. In the process, the Panthers shot Illinois State down to fourth place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 77-64 victory Wednesday night before a McLeod Center crowd of 3,364.
“I don’t think we were as bad as our defensive numbers,” said ISU coach Dan Muller. “I think they had a special night. I could be wrong. I could watch film and think we were terrible, but it felt like they were making 25-footers that were contested. For us, that’s very difficult to guard.”
ISU, which shared the Valley lead just eight days ago, dropped its third straight and fell to 14-12 overall and 7-6 in the league.
Phil Fayne paced the Redbirds with 21 points, but was the only ISU player in double figures. William Tinsley came off the bench and had one of his better games of the season with a game-high nine rebounds and eight points, making 2 of 4 outside the arc.
ISU leading scorer Milik Yarbrough finished with five points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field with five turnovers while being benched for most of the second half.
Berhow, who transferred from Pepperdine, was 5 of 8 from 3-point range and scored a season-high 20 points while Spencer Haldeman came off the bench to add 16 points for UNI (11-15, 6-7). The Panthers shot 51.6 percent on 3-pointers and also were 15 of 16 at the free throw line.
“On offense I thought the guys snapped that ball around,” said UNI coach Ben Jacobson, whose team had 16 assists on 23 baskets. “There were times a guy gave it up pretty early when he maybe had a decent matchup and maybe could have tried to make something out of it.”
UNI put on a shooting clinic in the first half, hitting 9 of 14 3-pointers in establishing a 43-31 lead.
Keyshawn Evans’ 3-pointer cut UNI’s lead to 22-20 with 9:06 left in the first half. But the Redbirds went almost five minutes without a basket as the Panthers got 3-pointers from AJ Green, Berhow and Isaiah Brown to open a 31-20 lead.
Tinsley’s 3-pointer ended ISU’s drought with 4:08 left. Fayne sank a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 36-30 with 1:43 left, but Berhow’s four-point play while being fouled by Isaac Gassman and a Spencer Haldeman 3-pointer gave the Panthers a 43-31 lead at the intermission.
“The way we came out was pretty bad,” said Fayne. “I take blame for that being a senior leader and not giving the team energy. It starts with leadership and everything. It’s always up to the starting five to go out there and give the team energy. We didn’t do that today.”
ISU looked out of it when UNI extended a 43-31 halftime lead to 49-33. Zach Copeland scored on a drive and 3-pointer sandwiched around and Evans 3-pointer as ISU got within 49-41 with 13:26 left.
ISU got as close at 66-59 with 3:53 left but couldn’t get closer.
“The first half our (defensive) breakdowns cost us. We corrected them the second half,” said Tinsley. “You can’t get punched in the mouth the first couple minutes. You have to throw the first punch instead of receiving it. It was mainly us as a team getting the mental breakdowns out of the way.”
Muller said UNI “played awesome.”
“Certainly we were not great defensively but I think they would have beaten a lot of teams tonight,” he said. “When you make shots a lot from four or five positions they’re tough to guard ... We have to figure out how to play harder defensively.”
ISU entertains Bradley, which knocked off first-place Loyola, at 7 p.m. Saturday at Redbird Arena.