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Northern Iowa cruises past Hokies in Cancun Challenge

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Northern Iowa Panthers coach Ben Jacobson may have a serious Missouri Valley Conference contender on his hands.

After upsetting Stephen F. Austin on the road a week ago, the Panthers team cruised past the Virginia Tech Hokies 73-54 on Tuesday Night in the Riviera Division of the Cancun Challenge.

Northern Iowa finished with four players in double-figures, led in scoring by guard Matt Bohannon, who had 13 points. Forward Marvin Singleton finished the night with 10 points and nine rebounds, and forward Seth Tuttle added 11 points for the Panthers.

The win guaranteed Northern Iowa (5-0) a spot in Wednesday night’s championship round of the Cancun Challenge, and they will face the winner of Northwestern and Miami of Ohio. The Panthers are 5-0 for the first time in Jacobson¹s nine seasons as the head coach.

Northern Iowa’s veteran roster, which returns five starters and a couple of transfers, launched a balanced attack that confused and frustrated the Hokies. Tech struggled to defend the perimeter in the first half, which led to dribble-drive opportunities and open lanes for the Panthers in the second half.

“Offensively we knew we were going to have to handle their pressure,” Jacobson said. “I thought our guards and Tuttle did a very good job of forcing some help and finding the right guy.”

In that second half, the Panthers put together a 17-2 run that ultimately put the Hokies away for good. Jacobson credited his team with preventing the Hokies from getting into transition.

“I thought our players did a good job of getting our defense set,” said Jacobson. “VT does such a great job with their transition offense that setting out half-court defense was important.”

Virginia Tech (2-2) was unable to score consistently throughout the game. Nine Hokies broke into the scoring column, but only center Joey Van Zegeren finished in double-figures.

Van Zegeren totaled 15 points and six rebounds. Freshman guard Ahmed Hill chipped in nine points.

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams acknowledged his team¹s inconsistency after the game.

“I thought towards the end of the first half we played pretty good,” Williams said. “Some way we’ve got to figure out, and it’s my fault ­ how to put together consecutive possessions that makes it look like that looks like they know what they’re doing.”

Jacobson’s team wasted no time attacking the young Hokies.

Northern Iowa jumped out to an early 22-12 lead behind stingy defense and hot shooting from the perimeter, as the Panthers connected on four of six 3-pointers to open the game.

Northern Iowa led Tech at the intermission, 40-31.

Seven Panthers scored in the first half, led by Bohannon and Nate Buss, who led all scorers with 10 points each.

Northern Iowa shot 60 percent from the field and a blistering 54.5 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

The Panthers’ nine-point lead at the break can be attributed to the stark contrast between the two teams in free-throw attempts. Northern Iowa made 10-of-11 shots from the charity stripe.

Virginia Tech attempted and made only one free throw in the first half.

Tech shot 48 percent from the floor and 44 percent from the free throw line. Hill and guard Adam Smith combined for 15 of the Hokies’ 40 first-half points. Van Zegeren contributed six points.

The Hokies, who had been outrebounded in the opening half of recent games and figure to struggle on the glass this season, tied the Panthers with 11 rebounds at halftime.

NOTES: Tuesday night marked the first-ever game between the Hokies and the Panthers. … Northern Iowa F Seth Tuttle entered Wednesday as the team’s leading scorer (17.0) and rebounder (7.3). … Up next, Virginia Tech will play the loser of Northwestern — Miami (OH) in the consolation game Wednesday night. Northern Iowa faces the winner of the same game in the championship game Wednesday night.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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