CSU men’s hoops team outlasts Northern Iowa on the road 84-78 in season opener

Sam Lounsberry

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – The first game of the year usually entails a little bit of sloppy offense.
 
But it didn’t Saturday for CSU’s men’s hoops team.
 
The Rams, who came into Saturday’s bout with Northern Iowa as seven-point underdogs, racked up 84 points while holding UNI to 78 to start the season with a win in front of a crowd of 4,455 at the McLeod Center.
 
For a team trying to replace its three most dependable players from a year ago, CSU had a nice chemistry on offense as it notched 14 assists while only committing eight turnovers.
 
In fact, five players reached double-digit scoring for CSU, including three that led with 16: Gian Clavell, John Gillon and Joe De Ciman. Senior guard Antwan Scott tallied 12, all coming from behind the 3-point line in 23 minutes off the bench, and junior forward Emmanuel Omogbo added 11.
 
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  • CSU ballhandler JD Paige gets swarmed by Northern Iowa defenders during CSU’s 84-78 win over UNI in the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa to open the 2015-16 season on Saturday, Nov. 14.

  • CSU freshman guard Prentiss Nixon shoots a jumper with Aarias Austin’s hand in his face.

  • Starting point guard for CSU John Gillon surveys the floor in transition during CSU’s 84-78 win over Northern Iowa on Saturday in the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

  • CSU freshman Prentiss Nixon attempts a free throw in the first half of CSU’s 84-78 win over Northern Iowa in its season-opener Friday.

  • UNI standout point guard Wes Washpun hangs in the air before drilling a jump shot in the Panthers’ 84-78 loss to CSU at home in its season opener Saturday in the McLeod Center.

  • CSU power forward Emmanuel Omogbo looks to get around Northern Iowa big man Bennett Koch.

  • CSU forward Tiel Daniels posts up on UNI’s Ted Friedman in hopes of receiving an entry pass from Antwan Scott, who is guarded by Jeremy Morgan.

  • Northern Iowa forward Paul Jesperson closes out on CSU’s Fred Richardson III as he takes a jumpshot during CSU’s 84-78 road win in the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Saturday to open the 2015-16 season.

  • CSU guard Gian Clavell makes a tough catch near the hoop with UNI defender Wes Washpun on his back in CSU’s 84-78 win over the Panthers at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Saturday.

  • Clavell waits to get up his shot.

  • Clavell looks back at the rim in hopes his layup attempt sinks through the net.

  • CSU freshman guard Prentiss Nixon, left, maneuvers on the baseline around UNI defender Jeremy Morgan, while forwards Emmanuel Omogbo (2) and Ted Friedman fight for position.

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 Photos by Sam Lounsberry.
Bench depth was an advantage for CSU. Foul trouble hurt UNI’s depth at the forward spots early, as Tiel Daniels and Omogbo were able to draw two quick fouls on Bennett Koch, who fouled out with several minutes to go in the second half.
 
“He was a bit slower, so I told Tiel to go at him,” Omogbo said of Koch.
 
And that’s exactly what he did. With an up-and-under move early in the game, Daniels drew a foul and finished through the contact to send Koch to the bench with two personals.
 
With the even slower Ted Friedman replacing Koch off the bench, the floor opened up for CSU’s guards. Gillon was able to throw a perfect bounce pass to Daniels for the Rams’ first dunk of the season off a pick and roll, and that energized them in the first.
 
That wouldn’t be the last time dribble penetration led to easy baskets. CSU guards found driving lanes all day, which led to a domination of the Panthers inside. CSU scored 36 points in the paint compared to just 22 for the Panthers.
 
“They get 36 points in the paint, and a lot of it was dribble-drive, beating guys off the dribble,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “That really hurt us. I felt like we were getting enough at the offensive end, we simply were not defending the way we needed to.”
 
Scott came in off the bench and drilled two 3-pointers with hands in his face, the second of which tied the game at 29 in the first.
 
But the Panthers didn’t give in easily after surrendering the lead. Last year’s Missouri Valley Conference Sixth Man of the Year Wes Washpun led the Panthers in a starting role at point-guard Saturday, scoring nine points in the first to keep it close. But CSU freshman Prentiss Nixon sank a deep trey at the halftime buzzer to extend CSU’s lead to seven, 42-35, at the break.
 
“That’s a very tough kid,” De Ciman said of Nixon, who received seven minutes off the bench. “I know his family was here, he had people in the crowd, he came in and played great defense and hit that dagger three before the half. We’re all happy for him and I’m proud of him too.”
 
After halftime, the Panthers began with a 13-6 run, six of which came from Matt Bohannon behind the 3-point line, to tie the game at 46.
 
But then the Rams really took off. They led by 11, 66-55, with 9:39 to go. It took Clavell finding his shot to further electrify CSU’s already clicking offense. The guard out of Puerto Rico shot just 1-for-6 in the first half for two points, but went 5-for-9 in the second to notch 14 more.
 
Part of Clavell’s success in the second was due to a change in his shot selection.
 
“I can’t say what I told him in the locker room, but Gian likes to take difficult shots,” Eustachy said. “We’re trying to get him out of that. … He’s very receptive to what we say.”
 
Bohannon had just three points in the first, but ended the game with 17, helping to lead the Panthers’ comeback effort. With 2:17 to go, the senior drilled a 3-pointer to pull the Panthers within three, 73-70, but the Rams were too clutch down the stretch to squander their lead, even in the face of full court pressure from UNI.
 
Gillon answered with a move to the rim for a layup to give CSU a five point lead again, and the Rams hit their free throws late when UNI started fouling to stop the clock. After Scott missed the front end of a one-and-one, JD Paige replaced him and hit his two free throws after not playing the rest of the half.
 
The Rams ended the game shooting 15-for-20 from the charity stripe, while the Panthers reached the line only 13 times to make 11.
 
“I think we can keep improving until the last game of the season,” De Ciman said. “We’ll go watch film on Monday morning and learn from our mistakes defensively and offensively, and only improve from there. We’re excited about that.”

Sam Lounsberry can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @samlounz.