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Wayne Nelson / Forum Communications Co., Published March 26 2010

Pulse of the purple: Jacobson mixes calm demeanor with intense desire to win

Grand Forks - As the Northern Iowa men’s basketball players were boarding the bus for their trip back to Cedar Falls, coach Ben Jacobson reached for his cell phone. He called his former college coach, Rich Glas, to talk about Northern Iowa’s NCAA tournament-defining win over Kansas – a shocking triumph that occurred an hour or so earlier.

“Ben said, ‘Pretty special, huh?’ ” said Glas, now the Concordia College coach.

Jacobson’s demeanor during the call to his former coach was reserved, just as it was during Northern Iowa’s biggest men’s basketball win in school history.

In the final minutes of UNI’s 69-67 win last Saturday, Kansas applied intense pressure. The Panthers could have wilted against the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, but their demeanor on the court was an extension of Jacobson’s calm presence on the sideline.

“That’s how Ben always has been,” said Glas, who coached Jacobson at UND from 1989-93 and later joined Jacobson’s staff at UNI. “Don’t get me wrong, Ben’s churning on the inside. Even when he played, Ben was pretty stoic out there in his demeanor.

“Ben may be calm and collected on the outside, but he’s a competitor. He’s intense.”

His reserved nature remained on display during the media circus that followed UNI’s win.

Jacobson was interviewed by ESPN personalities Jim Rome and Scott Van Pelt. He also was on the ‘Mike & Mike in the Morning’ radio show. Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh is on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated.

The media blitz allowed Jacobson to promote Northern Iowa to a national media audience. It was exposure that certainly can’t hurt future recruiting. And Jacobson will be a big part of UNI’s future after signing a 10-year contract extension earlier this week.

Through it all, though, Jacobson said UNI’s mission simply is to prepare for Michigan State in tonight’s Sweet 16 game in St. Louis.

“It’s all been a blast, but we’re still playing basketball,” Jacobson said. “You have to keep your feet on the ground, watch film and get ready for Michigan State.

“It’s as close to business as usual as it can be.”

But the spotlight intensifies tonight at the Edward Jones Dome, where Northern Iowa hopes to reach the Elite Eight.

Michigan State will play without its leading scorer, Kalin Lucas, who ruptured his Achilles’ tendon during last week’s buzzer-beating win over Maryland. And Michigan State players Chris Allen and Delvon Roe are limited due to injuries.

But Jacobson said Michigan State still will be difficult to beat.

“They compete at a high level on every possession,” Jacobson said. “They push the ball hard in transition. I don’t think (Lucas’ injury) will change what they do or how hard they play.”

Wayne Nelson is the sports editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.