UNI Wins 9th Straight, Tops Illinois St

January 29th, 2009
Cedar Falls, Iowa - Junior guard Ali Farokhmanesh scored a game-high 17 points to lead the University of Northern Iowa to a 59-55 win over Illinois State tonight at the McLeod Center. The back-and-forth affair featured seven ties and six lead changes, and neither team held more than a five-point lead at any point.

The win, UNI's ninth straight, improved the Panthers' record to 15-6 overall, 9-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Illinois State fell to 17-4 overall, 6-4 in the MVC. UNI's nine-game winning streak is the school's longest in 45 seasons, as the 1963-64 squad also won nine straight. UNI was then a Division II school known as the State College of Iowa.

Farokhmanesh was 6-for-11 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range, including several from well behind the arc. Once again, UNI had balanced scoring, as Kwadzo Ahelegbe had 13 points, Lucas O'Rear 10 and Travis Brown came off the bench to score nine. O'Rear, making his first career start, led the Panthers with eight rebounds and also had three assists and one steal.

Farokhmanesh hit his first trey of the game four minutes in to give UNI a 9-6 lead, but ISU answered with five straight points to pull in front 11-9. After Brown tied the game at 13-all with his first triple of the game, ISU's Alex Rubin hit a three of his own to put the Redbirds in front, 16-13, with 12:02 on the clock.

Illinois State opened a 20-15 lead with 8:08 left after Emmanuel Holloway hit a jumper, but then Farokhmanesh started to heat up. He made a layup off an inbounds play, hit a three-pointer from the corner, and then bombed in a 25-footer in transition to put the Panthers in front, 23-22, with 5:46 before halftime.

The Redbirds answered, and were able to build their lead back to five, 32-27, with less than three minutes before intermission. But UNI scored the final five points of the half - on a tough fadeaway jumper from Johnny Moran, and a Brown trey from the top of the key - to go into halftime tied at 32-all.

Illinois State scored the first two baskets of the second half to open a four-point lead. The Redbirds were in front, 42-39, when Kerwin Dunham drained a three from the corner to pull UNI even. After Jordan Eglseder made a free throw with 11:31 left in the game, UNI had its first lead of the second half at 43-42.

ISU scored scored four straight to move back in front, 46-43, but O'Rear grabbed a miss, scored, was fouled, and converted the three-point play to get UNI even. Brown then buried a three to give UNI a 46-43 lead with 6:55 left, and the Panthers did not trail again.

UNI had as much as a five-point lead, 53-48, with just over three minutes left, but ISU continued to fight. The Redbirds got as close as 56-55 with 19 seconds left after Champ Oguchi hit a three-pointer from the right corner, but Ahelegbe calmly drained two free throws right after that to build the Panthers' lead back to three. ISU's Lloyd Phillips missed a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, and Ahelegbe made one of two free throws with three seconds left to seal the 59-55 victory.

UNI's defense was stifling in the second half, allowing just 23 points to the Redbirds, including holding them to just one field goal over an 11-minute stretch at one point.
Illinois State came into the game averaging more than nine three-pointers made per game, but UNI held the Redbirds to just 5-for-18 shooting from behind the arc, including 1-for-9 after halftime. The Panthers were 8-for-19 from downtown, with Farokhmanesh and Brown a combined for 7-for-11.

The Panthers next game is this Saturday (Jan. 31), when they travel to Terre Haute, Ind., to face Indiana State. Tipoff time from the Hulman Center is set for 12:05 pm central.