- Associated Press - Thursday, November 17, 2016

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) - Jeremy Morgan plays guard for the Northern Iowa Panthers, but that seems almost too limiting.

The senior does a little bit of everything for the Panthers. That much was obvious on Thursday night when Morgan scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and gave four assists - all game highs - in leading NIU to an impressive 82-63 win over Arizona State in the opening round of the Tire Pros Invitational.

“The best part of his game is his versatility,” said NIU coach Ben Jacobson, whose team improved to 2-0 on the season. “Usually when that’s the word used by your coach or what people see is the versatility then they say,’ OK, he must not be great at anything.’ But he is pretty good at a lot of things. I use the term versatility as high praise.”

The Panthers got outstanding performances from Spencer Haldeman, Klint Carlson and Bennett Koch but it was Morgan who served as the facilitator of their production. That often meant him finding Haldeman on the perimeter or Koch flashing in the paint or ASU paid so much attention to Morgan that at least one of his teammates was left open.

What it all led to was a dominant performance by the Panthers over their Pac-12 opponent. With Morgan and Haldeman leading the way from 3-point range and Koch unmatched in the paint, NIU led by as many as 10 points in the first half and 20 points in the second half.

“I’m just going out there and doing everything I can for the team whether that’s getting the ball to somebody who is wide open or going to get an extra possession on offense or knocking down an open 3,” said Morgan, the Preseason Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. “I’m just trying to do everything I can to help the team win.”

The Panthers shot 51 percent from the field and with Morgan and Haldeman combining to convert nine 3-pointers.

ASU coach Bobby Hurley was disappointed that his team seemed a step slow defensively and out of synch offensively against its toughest opponent so far this season.

“It was out of character with how we’ve playing and practicing,” he said. “We didn’t really move the ball well at all and credit Northern Iowa with how to share the ball and the shot making.”

BIG PICTURE

Northern Iowa: In their first real test of the season, the Panthers proved they can be a force in the Missouri Valley Conference and perhaps on the national scene. Morgan, the preseason MVC Player of the Year, and Haldeman didn’t flinch against their Pac-12 opponent.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils got off to an impressive 2-0 start but when faced against a team that can defend and has a nice inside-outside game they were exposed. Senior Obinna Oleka never came close to figuring out how to defend Koch in the post.

CONFIDENT PANTHER

Koch may have lacked some confidence last season, but he played like he was the best player on the floor Thursday against the Sun Devils.

He consistently demanded the ball in the paint against Oleka and he made good. Koch was 6 for 7 in the paint for 14 points and could have scored much more because ASU never figured out how to stop him.

UP NEXT

Northern Iowa: The Panthers faces Oklahoma in semifinals on Friday.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils meets Tulane on Friday in the consolation semifinals.

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25.

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