Northern exposure aids hoops

BY KYLE MANN | JULY 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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WATERLOO — The Hawkeyes hit the road last week to take the Prime Time League to Waterloo for the first time in the league’s history. While the Hawkeyes are surely the “stars” of the league, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the fans from Waterloo were keen on another group of players.

After a two-year hiatus from Prime Time, Northern Iowa has returned this summer, and the Panthers are excited to have a few games held close to home at the Cedar Valley SportsPlex. Often regarded as the “little brother” in the state, but make no mistake — Northern Iowa’s presence is felt.

The Panthers lay claim to the league’s leading scorer in guard Matt Bohannon at a whopping 36.5 points per game, as well as big men Nathan Buss and Seth Tuttle, who are second and fourth, respectively. Guard Wyatt Lohaus is second in assists at 7 per game, with Bohannon and point guard Deon Mitchell at third and fourth. Bennett Koch is also fourth in rebounds at 10 per game.

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“These guys have proven that they’re good enough to play at Iowa now, but when they were in high school, nobody thought that,” coach Randy Larson said. “Nobody at UNI got offered by Iowa, and [Jacobson] takes guys that we made mistakes on. They want to prove it.”

Larson believes there has been a noticeable spike in quality of play this summer, as well as an increased level of intensity. Games have avoided turning into merely run-and-gun pickup contests, and a big part of that is that the Division-I players prevent each other from getting lackadaisical.

“It’s a good in-state rivalry,” Koch said. “It’s fun to play against them and show what we can do and see what they can do. It’s definitely better than just playing your teammates all the time.”

Prime Time has traditionally played two games per week, both in North Liberty, but mutual interest among the Panthers, Larson, and the Hawkeyes has brought about changes to the league’s structure. Games are now played only once a week, with two regular-season weeks in Waterloo.

“Ben Jacobson called me up and asked if we would consider coming up there to make it easier on their guys,” Larson said. “Fran [McCaffery] immediately said, ‘You bet.’ ”

Because of obvious logistical issues going from Waterloo to North Liberty, all parties agreed on the changes, and Prime Time took on a new format, one that benefits both programs and the league itself.

Though not among the statistical league leaders, 6-7 swingman Jeremy Morgan has been one of the most impressive players on the floor this summer. Displaying a smooth, pure shooting stroke, Morgan has been able to make impressive shots from seemingly anywhere on the floor.

The Iowa City West graduate has been pleased with the way he and his teammates have performed against the Hawkeyes and other Prime Time participants, and he said the games in Waterloo benefit them.

“We’re going to play hard and to the best of our abilities wherever we are,” Morgan said. “But home-court advantage is nice.”

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