CEDAR FALLS — Seth Tuttle was just about the only one making plays for the University of Northern Iowa men’s basketball team Wednesday.
When Tuttle fouled out with 1:32 remaining, nobody else could come up with a game-changer and Indiana State made enough free throws to preserve a 65-61 victory at the McLeod Center.
Jake Koch missed an open look at a 3-pointer that would’ve tied the game 55-55. One play later, Anthony James missed a floater in the lane that would’ve cut the UNI (7-7, 0-2 MVC) deficit to one.
From there, the Sycamores (9-4, 2-0) got the lead up to as many as seven with under a minute left and survived.
“The last 10 minutes, it’s not like it was a bunch of offensive rebounds or a bunch of poor plays, but we just missed on a couple opportunities to get it tied late,” said head coach Ben Jacobson.
Another missed opportunity came with 6.5 seconds remaining and the deficit back down to three. In front of their own bench, the Panthers had troubles getting the ball inbounds, and, when they did, Marc Sonnen’s foot hit the sideline and a potential-game-tying shot didn’t even get up.
“The ball was supposed to go to the top and they defended him pretty well. In that situation, that’s on me as opposed to the guys,” said Jacobson, who drew up the play in a timeout moments earlier.
“Had he gotten the ball, we had time to run the rest of the play. I like what we had called, but I made the mistake of not making sure Chip (Rank) was going to be open.”
Lucas Eitel went down and made 1 of 2 free throws to push the lead up to four with only 3.2 ticks left. Eitel’s miss and make was common for the Sycamores in crunch time as they made just four of the last eight free-throw attempts — Jake Odum was three for his last six — but it turned out to be enough against a UNI team unable to muster a play to seize the game.
“Our guys just found a way, they really did,” said Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing. “We had a little more calmness. We just made enough plays.”
Tuttle finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds and was really the lone bright spot for a UNI offense that has shown serious signs of trouble in recent games. After a season-low 41-point performance Sunday at Wichita State, good looks were hard to come by again.
Tuttle converted most of his opportunities, but, as a whole, he’s still left wondering what could have been.
“There were a couple missed opportunities that we had. Missed open shots, missed lay-ups, just some stuff that didn’t go our way,” said the sophomore. “That hurts the flow of your game and the flow of your offense.”
Anthony James brought in six rebounds and had 12 points for UNI but did it on 6 of 16 shooting with six turnovers. Jake Koch added eight points, seven rebounds and five assists as point guard and leading scorer Deon Mitchell only played four minutes in the second half.
On the other end, Indiana State was never able to fully take control, but, just like its performance at the line to end the game, it was just enough of what it needed.
“We couldn’t stretch (the lead) out, but we answered their runs,” Lansing said.
Justin Gant finished with 18 points and six rebounds to lead the Sycamores while Jake Odum added 16 points and hit 9 of 13 free throws.
UNI is now 0-2 in Missouri Valley Conference play with a tough trip to Illinois State looming Saturday.
“We just have to keep our heads up and do the things that we can control,” said James. “We started 0-2 in conference, but there’s not much we can do but try to improve on the things we need to and move forward.”