CEDAR FALLS | University of Northern Iowa men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson pled with his team to get over it.
“It” is a pair of heartbreaking losses in the last week in which the Panthers had a victory in hand before collapsing down the stretch.
He could’ve thrown a 25-point beating at Wichita State a month ago in for good measure.
The Shockers, now ranked No. 15 in the nation, came to the McLeod Center Saturday and Seth Tuttle’s dunk with three seconds remaining was the final exclamation point in the Panthers’ statement that they had moved on. Tuttle’s jam put away UNI’s late-game demons and solidified the 57-52 upset.
“It’s a good feeling, right there,” Tuttle said of going in for the final bucket. “With everything this team has gone through so far, how we’ve had some close games not go our way lately, how we’ve had some tough losses and how we had to keep battling to get this one tonight.”
Tuttle also had the defensive play of the game, stuffing Nick Wiggins’ lay-up attempt to protect a two-point lead with 15 seconds to play. Tuttle made one free throw, Malcolm Armstead dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds on the other end and UNI inbounded the ball to a streaking Tuttle to shut the door.
The Panthers (12-11, 5-6 MVC) used a 14-0 run over a six-minute stretch in the second half to lead by 10, and, while the final minutes weren’t completely smooth, UNI students rushed the court following a win over a top-15 team for the second-straight year.
It was all something the Panthers now have to show for their effort.
“I give them a lot of credit for taking responsibility for the mistakes they’ve made the past two games,” Jacobson said. “They didn’t just pass it off as nothing. They took responsibility for it and made sure they didn’t get down. They stayed confident, kept the momentum from the games they won and that’s why they played well today.”
Momentum was even hard to come by Saturday after Wichita State (19-4, 8-3) scored the first seven points of the second half to break a tie game. The Shockers led 36-32 when UNI turned it on. Marc Sonnen and Chip Rank hit back-to-back 3-pointers to force a Wichita State timeout.
Anthony James kept it rolling as he swished three-straight jump shots to cap the run, and force the Shockers to have another chat.
“I was just doing what I had been doing the entire game. They started falling for me,” said James, who scored 13 of his team-best 16 points in the second half.
“We’ve seen that before from him. He showed us again today that he can take over a game,” Jacobson said of James. “That was an impressive run and one that we needed. We needed to stretch it out there, we needed a bit of a cushion.”
Wichita State cut the deficit to two twice in the final two minutes as Carl Hall put up his game-high 20th point.
But UNI was relieved to finally see its opponent be the team to falter down the stretch. Tuttle’s block on Wiggins gave him a career-high four swats and the sophomore finished with eight points and eight rebounds to keep Wichita State’s margin on the glass at one.
Deon Mitchell and Chip Rank also scored eight as Rank came up with a pair of big offensive rebounds to keep the Panthers moving in the second half.
“We’ve been staying strong together through all these ups and downs,” said Rank. “Maybe now we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”