On the team bus, as the Indiana State men’s basketball team quickly departed the UNI-Dome for what was likely to be a long commercial flight home, ISU swingman David Moss just shook his head.

Three days after ISU notched one of its most impressive wins of the season at Southern Illinois, the Sycamores reverted to their January form, suffering an 83-56 blowout at the hands of Northern Iowa.

“They’re a good team and we didn’t come out with anything. They got easy buckets inside and then made shots outside. We can’t come out like that against a good team,” Moss said.

Who can blame Moss for pondering why the Sycamores couldn’t match the effort they had in Carbondale? Few teams go from such disparate lows (an 80-58 loss to Missouri State last Sunday), to undreamt heights, back to the doldrums again quite like this group of Sycamores. If ISU’s week — which is a microcosm of an odd season — was graphed on a Geiger counter, California would be in the ocean by now.

But though this loss had its roots in ISU deficiencies, this particular loss had more to do with the fact that No. 25 UNI is just that much better.

Was ISU’s defense suspect? Undeniably, particularly in a flat second half, UNI shot an ISU opponents’ season-high 59.3 percent from the field. But this rout can’t quite be filed in the same “no-defense” category such as losses to Illinois State and Missouri State. UNI has too many weapons.

If a vote were cast today, Grant Stout’s name would scribbled on to at least one MVC Player of the Year ballot. He was instrumental in the Sycamores’ demise, setting UNI’s offense up early on with buckets inside, eventually scoring a game-high 17 points. He dominated foul-prone Trent Wurtz and Jay Tunnell inside, snaring 13 rebounds. His six blocks made the paint an ISU forbidden zone.

“You can make a case for it,” said UNI Coach Greg McDermott upon being asked whether Stout was the Valley’s best player. “The consistency with what he does is remarkable. He keeps racking up double-double’s and blocked shots, and we tend to take it for granted.”

Another UNI candidate for the Valley’s best player, guard Ben Jacobson, hurt ISU without scoring. The Panthers might have only got eight points from the Preseason Player of the Year, but the senior drew ISU’s defense, made the right pass at the right time and damaged the Sycamores without relying on his 3-point shooting, though he did make a crowd-pleasing 28-footer in the second half.

“Ben Jacobson, whether he’s scoring or not, makes us a better team. I’d hate to have to choose between anyone on our team. Grant’s put up MVP numbers, but the coaches around the league know how important Ben is to us and what we do, so I’d have a hard time not considering him as well,” McDermott said.

The opportunities the Panthers’ pair creates opens things for everyone else, and Saturday’s game was Exhibit ‘A’. John Little, Brooks McKowen, Jared Josten and Travis Brown (who scored a career-high 16 points) took advantage of open looks created by their teammates.

OK, so UNI was better and perhaps this loss — unlike some of the defeats to teams ISU would be considered as good or better than — can be chalked up simply to UNI’s superior talent. But no player worth his salt is going to buy into that line of reasoning, and Moss believes there’s a lesson that can be learned.

“We have a lot of young guys who have to play and they don’t know that night in and night out they have to bring all they have. They’re new, they don’t know that. At the same time, we should still be able to have a good start, hopefully we can get it back going,” Moss said.

But will the lesson be absorbed? ISU has suffered hangovers from losses this season, and they’ve answered the bell when they were seemingly dead in the water, so taking the emotional temperature of the Sycamores is a risky business.

“You just do it,” said Waltman on moving on from two straight games that were as diametrically opposed as a pair of games could be. “I tell the kids, ‘How does the old man get up and go to work everyday? They don’t have it on TV, its not in the newspaper, but he still goes and does it.’

“Hopefully, we don’t always need things to go right to do our job. We’ll come and play,” Waltman said.

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