In Northern Iowa's first-ever appearance in the NABC Hall of Fame Classic, the Panthers narrowly missed making a gargantuan splash, falling to San Francisco, 75-69.

 

Truthfully, 32 of the 40 minutes couldn't have been scripted any better for Coach Ben Jacobson and company -- even without the experience and defensive prowess of red-shirt sophomore guard Nate Heise who will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a hand injury.

They slowed the pace, methodically went through their offense, and prevented the Dons from getting any easy buckets.

In the first half, the Panthers shot 19-30 from the field and 3-5 from deep to take a 43-32 lead into the break. Bowen Born led UNI in scoring with 13 and starting bigs Tytan Anderson and James Betz each put in 10.

All the while, the Dons shot a measly 13-35 from the field and 3-18 from three.

"We started off hot," Michael Duax, who started in place of Heise said. "That's been our goal since the beginning of the year. Come out hot, take it to them, and bring the aggression. Our first-half defense was really solid."

It stayed that way for the majority of the second half. With 17:32 to go, the Panthers extended their half-time, nine-point lead to 15.

Then, the Dons began to slowly chip away at the lead. Behind a combination of UNI turnovers, missing the front end of 1-and-1 free throw attempts, and the three-point shot beginning to fall for San Francisco, it was as if Northern Iowa fans could tell the lead would soon slip away.

With 7:38 to go, UNI's lead had dwindled to nine. Then at 6:06, it was four. With 1:47 to go, the Dons took their first lead, 71-69. They never let up, extending that lead to six by the end of the contest.

Over the last 8:31 of the game, the Panthers made just three field goals and missed all five of their free throw attempts in the second half.

Over the final 7:38, USF put up 19 points, including three three-pointers and six made free throws.

"We did so many things well," Duax added. "In the second half, they got in a stretch where they got hot. That's where we've got to buckle down and get stops. ... That's why I don't think we got the win."

Despite the loss, Betz finished with a career-high in scoring, finishing with 19 points, while shooting 8-12 from the floor and 3-5 from deep. That included this monstrous dunk in the second half:

Born finished with 16, Anderson added 14 and 10, and Duax scored 11 in his first start.

Khalil Shabazz led San Francisco in scoring with 24, shooting 8-16 from the field, 5-11 from three, and 3-3 from the stripe.

The Panthers will either face Grand Canyon or former Missouri Valley Conference rival Wichita State in the NABC Classic Hall of Fame consolation game tomorrow at 10:30 AM.

"We want to have the same kind of energy, execution, and spirit when the game starts tomorrow," Coach Jacobson said. "I think these guys will, but that will be our challenge."

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