UNI, Illinois State ready for different Round 2

CEDAR FALLS — Illinois State first-year head coach Ryan Pedon spoke bluntly on Monday about the last meeting between the Redbirds and Northern Iowa.

“They kicked our butts in our own building,” Pedon said.

Four weeks ago, the Panthers marched into CEFCU Arena in Peoria, Illinois and left with a 66-60 New Year’s Eve win.

Pedon wants Wednesday’s next matchup between the Missouri Valley Conference opponents to be different.

“The score wasn’t even an indication of how badly they kicked our butt that day,” Pedon said. “We have to answer the bell against these guys. They play well. We have to play better.”

According to Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson, he expects exactly what he wants from Wednesday’s competition.

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At the start of their last matchup, the Panthers owned a 5-8 aggregate record and a 1-2 conference record, while the Redbirds shared the same conference record with a 6-8 aggregate.

“When we saw each other a few weeks ago, I think we were both trying to really figure out some things,” Jacobson said. “I know we were safe. When we got out of the Illinois State game, we were able to turn that into a few more… It looks like Illinois State did the same.”

The New Year’s Eve win kickstarted a four-game winning streak for the Panthers that recently ended in a 76-72 loss to the Belmont Bruins on Saturday.

For Illinois State, a 2-2 record in the four games since losing to UNI does little to illustrate the progress the Redbirds have made in Jacobson’s perspective.

“They’ve had two really good games,” Jacobson said. “I think they’ve stepped up. Defensively, they’re doing some things they haven’t done in a couple of weeks since we saw them. [I] feel like they’re playing good basketball.”

In particular, Jacobson cited the Redbirds’ 35-32 halftime lead over Southern Illinois-leading Valley as an example of Illinois State’s improvement, even though the Salukis won 69-57.

Although much has changed for both programs since they last met, both coaches know what to expect from key contributors on both sides.

For the Redbirds, Liam McChesney managed 22 points – three shy of his season high – during their Dec. 31 contest against the Panthers. In four games against UNI, McChesney averaged 15.3 points per game.

According to Jacobson, the Canadian forward was able to find success against the Panthers thanks to his perimeter scoring and versatility.

“He played well against us,” Jacobson said. “Anytime you have a guy who can do threesomes, put him on the floor and post a little bit that versatility is a challenge. McChesney can do those things.”

With the Panthers, Bowen Born McChesney dueled with 25 points on 7-of-13 from the field (5-of-7 from three-point range) and 6-of-8 on the free-throw line.

Calling Born a “tough guard” for any opponent, Pedon praised the second guard from Norwalk, Iowa.

“His ability to start and stop is grossly underestimated,” said Pedon. “Despite its size, it is incredibly efficient. He’s very smart… He can score on all three levels.”

Though Born’s status remains uncertain, Pedon said the Redbirds will have their hands full should Valley’s top scorer start Wednesday.

With both programs improving from their previous meeting and the two already familiarizing themselves, Wednesday’s tilt will be a litmus test for both — a sign of how far each has progressed in the first month of Valley play.

The Redbirds and Panthers concede a white-out game at 7:00 p.m. at the McLeod Center. The game will be available on ESPN+ with a subscription or on the Panther Sports Radio Network KXEL 1540.

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