By Cole Blair, Gazette correspondent
CEDAR FALLS ? Despite a 26-point effort from Bennett Koch, No. 8 Xavier was able to put away Northern Iowa late in the second half FridaY, 77-67.
A Koch dunk and Klint Carlson 3 gave the Panthers an early 7-3 lead, and a second early offensive burst courtesy of Carlson and Juwan McCloud extended UNI?s lead to 22-12 with just under 10 minutes to play.
UNI (8-4) went without a basket for the next six minutes while Xavier (12-1) went on a 17-4 run over the next nine. With 20 seconds remaining in the half, a Spencer Haldeman 3 put a dent in the Musketeers? run as it got the Panthers back to even at the break.
?Our defense was good enough in the first half and we rebounded well enough in the first half,? UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. ?We had some pretty good looks at the basket. That was a lot of that 17 to 4 run. I still felt like our offense was pretty good. We weren?t turning it over. We weren?t taking tough shots at the end of the shot clock, for the most part. There?s always opportunities in basketball games and as it played out tonight that was our best opportunity, when we were ahead (22-12).?
Tied at 29 to begin the second half, the Musketeers opened with a 14-4 run. Koch and Wyatt Lohaus kept the Panthers within reach with a nine-point outburst from Koch and two 3-pointers from Lohaus to even the score at 46 with just over 10 minutes to play.
UNI was able to get the Xavier lead down to three with 1:56 to play due in large part to Koch ? who fouled out at the 1:47 mark ? and a lineup highlighted by Isaiah Brown, Lohaus and Haldeman, who combined to score 16 points in the final 12 minutes.
A turnover by Tywhon Pickford that ended in a J.P. Macura dunk extended the Musketeers? lead to seven with 1:35 to play. Pickford responded with a layup after the turnover and Macura and Isaiah Brown traded a pair of 3s with just under a minute to play. However, the Panthers were unable to draw within five in the final minute.
?Not a lot of complaints,? Jacobson said. ?They were better than we were tonight. They did a better job defending our ball-screen stuff in the second half. We weren?t getting quite the same (results) with our spacing and how we were moving the ball in the first half. They made the right adjustments. As that game goes on it?s not a team you want to be in a one-possession game with when there?s four or five minutes left because they have built themselves. This team has a lot of experience.?
Xavier shot 52 percent for the game and had three scorers in double-figures with Macura leading the Musketeers with 15 points.
Northern Iowa is back in action Thursday at 7 p.m. against Southern Illinois at home.
?I thought the guys were great in November, December,? Jacobson said. ?With the games that we just played ? we played some high-level teams ? I thought we continued to get better during the course of that time.
?I told the guys, ?now we?ve got to set that aside.? The games we play now are going to be as hard or harder than the Villanova and Xavier games. That?s the way conference play is.?