Giant Killers Once Again: UNI Basketball Defeats the No. 16 Team in the Country
The Panther men started their season with a 1-3 record, as their lone win came over NCAA Division III Dubuque University in the McLeod Center.
I received a lot of flack from friends and others who aren't fans of UNI. Things like "What's up with the basketball team this year?" and "AJ Green isn't quite what he once was, huh?"
These sweeping statements were made after:
1. Two of the three losses for the Panthers were to Vermont (a team that is perennially atop the American East Conference and makes the NCAA Tournament) and Arkansas (an SEC program that is currently ranked No. 13 in the country).
2. Green is coming off a season where he played just three games and went on to have double hip surgery before returning to the court.
My response remained: "I'm not worried. AJ just has to get into a groove, it'll happen soon enough."
Oh boy, did the Cedar Falls native prove me right on Saturday.
Looking for their first win on the road versus a top-25 team since they traveled to Boulder, Colorado and defeated the No. 23 Buffaloes 79-76 in December of 2019, the Panthers made their way to New York to face No. 16, St. Bonaventure University.
Though not a team that typically reaches heights of the top 25 in the country, the Bonnies are a deep and talented this season. They've got size, length, three point shooting, and they brought back all five starters from last year's Atlantic 10 Conference championship team.
One of those five starters is junior forward Osun Osunniyi, the A-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year last season, and the other four starters are averaging double figures in scoring. They were 5-0 going into their matchup with UNI, with wins over major Division I programs like Boise State, Clemson, and Marquette.
The team hailing from Allegany, New York is legit, and the Panthers knew they'd have a battle on their hands.
They showed up in the biggest of ways, and so did their best player.
Green started the evening with a roundabout, dipsy-do layup that somehow went in, made a wide open three point bucket, and continued to attack, dishing out passes for a few assists. His three-point shot didn't start falling at a consistent clip until there was just over three minutes left in the contest.
But wow, did it start to go after that.
Over the final 3:01 of the first half, Green made five three pointers and nailed two free throws to finish the first 20 minutes with 22 points. His season high in the entirety of a game prior to tonight was 19. UNI took a 47-34 lead to the break.
Though St. Bonaventure clawed its way back -- eventually tying the game up at 62 on a thunderous dunk that sent Bonnie fans into a frenzy -- they never retook the lead in the second half.
Then, like the time-chiseled veteran he is, Green kept his team calm. The Panthers didn't force shots. They took what was given to them.
Do you remember when I wrote "AJ Green is Back at 100% and the MVC Should be Petrified"?
This is exactly what I was talking about.
Green, Austin Phyfe, Tywhon Pickford, and other leaders across the roster kept their team composed, and made sure the Panthers continued to put their foot on the gas. They found the open man, they made the right plays, and they got a little lucky on the way, too.
Exhibit A is this shot by Nate Heise to make the lead eight with 3:19 remaining (and make sure to look at the shot clock):
Over the final few minutes, the trio of Heise, Green, and Bowen Born scored 13 points, sealing the deal for the 90-80 UNI victory.
Not only did AJ finish with 35 points, he finished 9-15 from the three point line. That's quite the way to shut up your doubters.
While the questions may stick around for this Panther team, a win over a top 20 team in the country certainly bodes well for their confidence going forward.
Green summed it up after the contest, saying this to buffalonews.com:
This is kind of what our program is about. We take these games because we believe we can win them, and tonight, I think we just trusted every guy to the right and left of us and it showed on the court, and we got it done.