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Cyclone women take down the UNI Panthers in final non-conference match

Iowa v Iowa State

Photo: David Purdy / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

Ames, IA - Many fans will look back on the Iowa State Cyclones (7-4) 87-70 victory over the Northern Iowa Panthers (1-8) as one of those games where the scoreboard did not tell the whole story. For the better part of three quarters the underdog Panthers rolled into Hilton and forced the Cyclones to work for every bucket. To win their third straight, Iowa State would need to rely on their depth and a balanced offensive attack to take down UNI in their final non-conference game of the season on Wednesday night.

“There is no one I respect more than coach Tanya Warren,” an emotional coach Bill Fennelly said. “These are hard because relationships in this business is hard…I am glad it is over, and I am proud of our team. Kelsey Joens was the best player in the game besides Maya McDermott…who we could not guard.”  

Here is how the Cyclone women made the correct adjustments at halftime to avoid the upset and head into conference play with great momentum.

Bench contribution proves vital for Iowa State in the first half

Despite coming out of the gates sluggish to begin the game, the Cyclones overcame a 10-2 deficit late in the first quarter. The Panthers played above their 1-7 record challenging the young Iowa State guards with high ball screens opening up an abundance of uncontested three-pointers. Maya McDermott, Northern Iowa’s strongest asset offensively shot (3-4) from deep in the first half finishing with 16 points at halftime.

Coach Fennelly’s squad found some rhythm offensively with great production from his bench, including seven quick points by Emily Ryan. With Ryan on the floor, there was a clear change in confidence and direction on the floor. Ryan put in a team-high 9 points on 4-5 shooting going into the locker room.

“Emily Ryan was Emily Ryan,” Fennelly said. “You could make a case that if she does not play we don’t win and I don’t know if you would be wrong, those were an impressive 15 minutes.”

Ending the second quarter outscoring the Panthers 26-18 Iowa State took a 42-34 halftime lead. After being celebrated on the court before tip-off for scoring her career 1,000th point, Isnelle Natabou proved to be a force in the paint coming off the bench in for a struggling Audi Crooks (4 first-half points) ending the half with 9 points on 3-4 shooting from the field including 3-4 at the charity stripe.

Ryan ended the night with 11 points helping inspire a remarkable performance from the “role” players.

“A gift is a voluntary willingness to do things for other people and give them something,” Fennelly said. “I thought tonight our bench was tremendous, we had foul trouble and our starters weren’t as good as they normally are, and combining foul trouble and ability to make baskets off the bench was huge.”

Balanced as all things should be. By the end of the night, six Cyclones scored in double-digits. What was the game changer and most impressive was Iowa State’s bench performance. They outscored the Panthers bench 24-7 in the first half, including a 24-18 advantage over their own starters. At the final buzzer, the bench outscored UNI 39-19

Defensive adjustments

Depth contribution continued into the second half, but it was the defensive adjustments and intensity surrounding the arc that stood out. The Panther squad that was unstoppable from deep in the first half struggled to get a sliver of an opening with the Cyclones communicating and reading the offense to perfection. Even with McDermott finishing with a career-high 30 points on 10-18 shooting (4-6 from deep).

“I don’t like to compare people, but if just sat in the seats and did not know any better [McDermott] played like Caitlin Clark,” Fennelly said. “We tried to guard her like we did Caitlin…I am just telling you that team is going to be a real tough out in the Valley.”

High praise for the guard, but it her performance would not be enough for the Panthers to overcome the scoring slumps. The perimeter defense by the Cyclones was second to none forcing UNI to shoot 2-12 from the arc in the second half.

While UNI struggled to find the bottom of the net, coming off the bench and tying a career-high in field goals made (6) was Kelsey Joens. Finishing with 16 points (one point shy of tying a career-high) the freshman guard took over the second half for the Cyclones.

“I don’t think [Joens] could have played any better,” Fennelly said. “No one on our team plays harder than Kelsey Joens, that kid plays hard on every single play and the kid loves to play.”

Now, as the team moves into the conference portion of their schedule where they will tip-off against multiple top-25 teams there is a lot to work on and much to be excited about.

“Our freshmen are farther along than I thought they would be and that is a fact,” Fennelly said. “The amount of minutes they are playing and the obligation and responsibilities they have, I could not be more pleased with where they are.”

The freshman tonight combined for 47 total points on 16-33 shooting from the field.

Iowa State sets its eyes on the road and prepares to face the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Dec. 30.

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