CEDAR FALLS — The way Northern Iowa's Thursday home game against Texas-Arlington played out almost defied explanation.
But after earning another tough win against a quality opponent, everyone in the Panther locker room was willing to let the final result speak for itself.
Klint Carlson scored a career-best 24 points, and the Panthers went on a 16-2 run late in the second half to earn a 62-58 win in a battle of top-50 RPI teams at the McLeod Center.
Carlson, who had hit just six 3-pointers in his previous 15 home games combined, equaled that total on his first six attempts Thursday, reaching a career-high scoring mark for the second game in a row. He finished the night 6-of-8 from behind the arc.
"It was good to make threes," said Carlson, a 24-percent 3-point shooter coming in. "It's just a matter of coming out and being confident and not thinking and just letting it go."
But when Carlson was forced to go to the bench after picking up his fourth foul at the 8:41 mark of the second half, the Panthers, who had gotten just 16 total points from the rest of the team to that point, looked to be in trouble. After going nearly nine minutes without hitting a field goal, UNI was staring down a 50-43 deficit.
But then, almost inexplicably, the offense made a 180-turn from inept to unstoppable.
After Isaiah Brown stopped the bleeding with a 3, Spencer Haldeman went unnoticed by the Maverick defense, sliding underneath the basket for an easy layup to cut the deficit to two.
After Tywhon Pickford and Isaiah Brown hit jumpers on consecutive possession, Juwan McCloud got into the scoring. The sophomore guard ended a stretch of six-consecutive made baskets, first hitting a jumper, then draining a triple to push the UNI lead to 59-52.
UT-A wouldn't go away easily, getting two 3s of their own to cut the deficit back to a point with under a minute to play.
But that would be as close as they would get. On the ensuing possession, Carlson drove inside then whipped a pass to Haldeman in the left corner, who buried a contested 3 for what proved to be the game's final points.
Though saying he couldn't fully explain the offensive transformation, Haldeman says it was aided by he and his teammates' unwavering confidence in their shooting ability.
"You've always got to think they're going in," Haldeman said. "I feel the same way about every shot, whether I'm missing them or making them."
Coach Ben Jacobson blamed himself for his team's mostly sluggish performance against UT-A's pressure-heavy defensive attack, but credited his players for responding.
"Against the press and against the zone we ended up standing around a lot," he said. "That has nothing to do with the guys, that's the preparation part.
"But .... when that group went back out there when we were down seven, they decided, 'We're going to play, we're going to make some plays and we're going to find a way to at least give ourselves a chance.' It was simply a mentality as opposed to making a change to our offensive system."
That mentality has the Panthers sitting pretty, as they improved their mark to 7-2.