The UNI Panthers got off to a fast start, then survived a late rally by Valparaiso to notch their first Missouri Valley Conference win of the season.

The Panthers beat the Crusaders 81-76 at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls Saturday night (Jan. 13, 2018). UNI led from start-to-finish, while beating Valparaiso for the 23rd time in 25 all-time meetings. The victory snapped the Panthers' seven-game losing streak.

A slight change to the starting line-up may have been the biggest key to UNI's win. Freshman forward Austin Phyfe replaced senior Bennett Koch, who had previously started all 17 games for the Panthers.

Phyfe, one of two freshman in the starting line-up, posted a 20-point, eight-rebound performance as he drilled 6-of-7 field goal attempts and was a perfect 8-of-8 at the foul line. The other freshman, Tywhon Pickford, finished with 23 points and nine rebounds as he drained all six of his shots from the field. Together, Phyfe and Pickford combined for 43 points and 17 rebounds on 12-of-13 shooting from the field and 15-of-16 at the free throw line.

UNI (9-9 overall, 1-5 MVC) kept Valparaiso scoreless for nearly five minutes of the first-half while going on a 12-0 run. The Panthers owned a 32-21 edge at halftime and held their largest lead at 23 points (46-23) with 15:05 left in the game.

Valparaiso (11-8 overall, 2-4 MVC) clawed its way back, cutting a 20-point deficit with 4:39 remaining to a five-point margin at the 1:22 mark. The Crusaders forced six UNI turnovers in the final 4:39 as they trimmed the Panthers' 69-49 lead to 74-69 after a three-pointer by Markus Golder.

UNI didn't hit a field goal the last four-and-a-half minutes of the game, but the Panthers closed out the victory at the free throw line.

UP NEXT: UNI hosts league-leading, in-state rival Drake on Tuesday (Jan. 16). Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the McLeod Center.