CARBONDALE, Ill. – The Panthers fought through a physical game to split their last road trip of January with a 94-81 win over the Southern Illinois Salukis.
UNI had their highest-scoring game of the season in a big bounce-back win on Saturday. The Panthers led most of the way in the high-octane offensive game as they were able to draw 26 fouls out of the Salukis. Four of UNI’s starting five had double-digit outings while guard Emerson Green set a career-high in scoring with 26 points, going over 50% from all areas of the floor.
“We had a good bounce-back win,” said Head Coach Tanya Warren. “Our start was a little shaky but I thought we settled in to play with a great amount of poise. It was a hard-fought and very physical game. But we got great contributions from everybody for a great team win. We had to play a little bit more zone than we’re used to playing while a little shorthanded. But I thought everybody stepped up to the challenge.”
Early turnovers began Saturday’s game for both teams but it soon became a back-and-forth contest. For the first five minutes, the Panthers and Southern Illinois traded shots. The Salukis had a brief four-point run to have their highest lead of the game early. UNI would end the first on a 10-2 run to lead 25-22 after 10 minutes of play.
It remained a blow-for-blow game in the second but the Panthers continued to hold the lead for a full 10 minutes. Southern Illinois got UNIs lead down to one with two straight field goals in the fourth minute. The Panthers responded with a seven-point run that began on a three from Green.
The teams matched each other shot for shot going into halftime. UNI kept its edge thanks to two made free throws from forward Grace Boffeli to lead by six. Boffeli took all eight of the Panthers free throw attempts in the second quarter, making five for a 62.5 shooting percentage.
UNI had its least accurate offensive quarter in the third but started off with a bang thanks to a third three from Green to go up by nine. The Salukis chipped away at the Panther lead early, making it just a two-point game in the first three minutes. In response, senior guard Kam Finley hit a three to get the lead back up to five.
The momentum returned to a back-and-forth motion until the final three minutes of the third. UNI tore off on an 11-point run that included two threes for Green and guard Kayba Laube. The Panthers entered the final frame of the day up by 14.
Southern Illinois had a spark in the top of the fourth quarter on a five-point run. But UNI bounced right back as Boffeli made two layups in a row. The Panther lead was brought back down into single digits on a few separate occasions midway through the quarter.
But over a dozen chances at the line for UNI kept it a double-digit lead for most of the fourth. Over half of the Panthers fourth quarter points were at the free throw line, with 10 points at the charity stripe coming in the final five minutes. With 81% shooting from the line, UNI beat Southern Illinois 94-81.
The Panthers were just under 50% shooting from the floor making 30 of 61 attempts. UNI also rebounded behind the arc shooting 31.8% on 22 tries. On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers also shined, winning the rebounding game with 39 boards and making five steals.
Green, Boffeli, and guard Maya McDermott all had 20+ point nights against the Salukis. Green led the way with 26 while Boffeli had 24 and McDermott with 21. Finley also had a double-digit shooting performance picking up 12 points in 28 minutes. Boffeli led the team in rebounds with 10 for her eighth double-double of the year. Guard Taryn Wharton also set a career-high in rebounds pulling down six boards.
UNI returns home to the McLeod Center for their final regular season game against in-state rivals Drake. The Panthers midweek matchup with the Bulldogs will be the Missouri Valley Game of the Week. Tipoff in Cedar Falls is set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 1.