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Team Profile: 2006 BracketBuster Recap: Northern Iowa 65, Bucknell 61 (2OT)

by Matthew Stevens | February 18th, 2006

UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls, Iowa

Think about it: all Bucknell had to do with inbound the ball. The Bison didn’t, and in failing to do so, probably lost a realistic shot at achieving a quality seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“It was a great game. The kids left it all out there,” Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery said. “It was the kind of game where you thought you had it, and it got away.”

For Northern Iowa, Bucknell’s misfortune turned into a huge gift for the Panthers. Northern Iowa had its Tournament hopes go from life support to very much secure by rallying from a nine-point deficit in the final 5:20 of regulation.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Northern Iowa head coach Greg McDermott said. “They didn’t quit.” Bucknell (21-4) not only lost its school-record 12-game winning streak, but made it nearly impossible to make the NCAA Tournament without running the table in the Patriot League and making the final of the conference tournament.

“We know we’re a good basketball team,” Flannery said. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Selection Committee will come to the same conclusion.

Northern Iowa got a huge lift from its pair of Eric’s as Crawford and Coleman combined for 27 points, 12 rebounds and half of the Panthers field goals.Guard Eric Crawford came back from what he thought was a season-ending knee injury to hitting the game-tying fallaway 8-footer with .8 seconds left.

“Just to be on the court is special for me, and to be put in a situation to get a shot like that and make it is something special,” Crawford said.

Both teams played solid fundamental defense the entire afternoon but it’s a good bet that Flannery and his Bison will look at the game film and cringe at how they effectively took themselves out of their own offense.

Throughout the first minutes of the game, Bucknell was insistent on grinding out points with its junior center Chris McNaughton. And then they stopped. Northern Iowa shifted into a matchup zon; McNaughton was still open but the Bison stopped feeding their most consistent scorer.

In the 39 minutes, McNaughton ended the game with 8 points and 6 rebounds. Since its German power option was shut down, you’d think the guard duo of Kevin Bettencourt and Charles Lee would have been effective from the perimeter. The answer is yes and no. Lee was solid (15 points, 11 rebounds). Bettencourt went 2 of 10 but had all of Bucknell’s five free throws.

In the end, this loss may have served as an educational process for the Bison. At least this revelation didn’t happen to Flannery and his crew during the NCAA Tournament when they will face another quality team.

Northern Iowa fans realized two things from Saturday’s game: that is their team can fight, and their basketball IQ is very high.

McDermott continued to use his four out-one offense (resembling a slower version of Villanova’s) even when Bucknell’s disciplined defense held them to 20 first-half points. He nor his team panicked over a possible third straight loss and being placed squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble before heading into the always competitive Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis.

“Our defense gave us a chance to win,” McDermott said.

Northern Iowa has now gone from a dangerous first round matchup to a school that you don’t want to face in the second or third rounds. This win proved that the Panthers are multi-dimensional. Usually, it’s Jacobsen, Crawford or Coleman hitting jump shots, but they also showed the country that on one day, they can as a collective unit play solid defense against most any motion offense.

Neither team played with a sense of urgency like this game made or broke its NCAA Tournament hopes, but the argument can certainly be made that the win helped UNI more than the loss hurt Bucknell.

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