CEDAR FALLS — Hearty souls ignored winter weather warnings last night and drove to the McLeod Center to witness a blizzard inside the three-year-old building.
The blizzard’s name was Kwadzo Ahelegbe, and the UNI guard buried Iowa with a scoring avalanche every time the Hawkeyes got within striking distance.
Ahelegbe, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, scored 20 points, most of which at opportune times, to lead the Panthers (6-1) to a 67-50 win against Iowa before a mostly packed arena. UNI’s win ended a two-year losing streak to Iowa, and it was the Panthers’ largest margin of victory in the series’ history.
Along with his scoring output, Ahelegbe grabbed four rebounds, dished two assists and locked down Iowa’s guards defensively in a complete performance.
“That’s sometimes my role,” Ahelegbe said. “Sometimes I need to initiate the offense. Sometimes I need to create the offense for myself. Sometimes I need to create the offense for my teammates. That’s part of my job description.”
Ahelegbe stopped Iowa on a pair of key second-half series. The Hawkeyes rallied early in the second half to cut UNI’s lead to six. But the Panthers buried Iowa on a 9-0 run to extend its lead to 48-33. Ahelegbe scored six points on three straight possessions, and Kerwin Dunham sunk Iowa’s hopes with a 3-pointer.
Iowa (3-6) crept within 10 points before Ahelegbe scored once in with a winding shot in the lane and on a jumper one possession later. Ahelegbe ended a 10-2 run with a layup to extend the Panthers’ lead to 16 points.
“Once he made a jumper or two in the second half, you could tell he wanted the basketball,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “Kwadzo moved himself over to the off-guard position and called his own number. He’s got a real good understanding of our offense. He’s done a good job of calling plays for different guys on our basketball team in certain points in games and (last night) he called his own number a couple of times. He’s just got a good feel for who’s got it going, and he did in the second half.”
Iowa assistant coach Chad Walthall, who’s filling for a recovering Todd Lickliter, cited UNI’s experience as vital in the outcome. The Panthers start three seniors and one junior.
“During some critical moments there you saw their experience come through,” Walthall said. “So our hats off to them.”
Walthall also praised Ahelegbe.
“He hit some big shots,” Walthall said. “A very, very good basketball player. He’s a guy that can shoot the 3, he’s got a great midrange game, he can get to the rim, he’s a good passer, he’s strong. … He’s very impressive.”
Iowa committed 15 turnovers, the seventh time this season Iowa had committed at least 13 in a game. UNI buried Iowa 31-3 in points off turnovers.
UNI exploded to a 17-point first-half lead and lit up Iowa on a 22-1 run that spanned 9 minutes, 17 seconds. Iowa committed five turnovers on 11 possessions, while UNI scored on eight straight possessions to take a 24-7 lead.
The win marked only the third time in school history UNI has beaten both Iowa and Iowa State in the same season.