UNI defeats Indiana State 73-69

by Matthew Stevens | March 6th, 2009

ST. LOUIS – Top seeded Northern Iowa can take a deep breath -  at least for now.

After being behind for most of the second half, the Panthers survived a scare from ninth-seeded Indiana State by using a late 9-2 run over the last five minutes to earn a 73-69 victory in its Missouri Valley Conference Tournament quarterfinal contest Wednesday afternoon.

“I think the experience of the games we lost in November and December was a factor for us today,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobsen said.

After being down the seemingly the entire second half, UNI’s Kwandzo Ahelegbe made a layup before the four-minute media timeout to give the Panthers the lead for good. However when asked the difference in the game, the sophomore point guard deflected all the credit of the come-from-behind win to his MVC first-team forward.

“Adam Koch,” Ahelegbe said. “He gave us big buckets down the stretch and that’s why he’s one of the best players in our league.”

Northern Iowa (21-10), who most analysts believe needs to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to receive an NCAA bid, was led by a pair of 19-point efforts from both Koch and Ahelegbe.

Certainly a loss in the postseason tournament to an 11-win team would have ended any hope for the Panthers first invitation to March Madness since 2006.

“I don’t know if we were nervous and felt added pressure because of the seed we had but we’re looking forward to the opportunity,” Koch said.

Koch, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, had 12 second-half points on 5-of-6 shooting after struggling with foul trouble in the first 20 minutes.

For 35 minutes of play, UNI looked likely to be first one-seed in MVC Tournament history to lose its quarterfinal game but with the victory, the top seed in this conference remains 33-0 in its first game.

The less-than-24-hour turnaround didn’t affect the outside of the shooting of the Sycamores (11-21), who were 7-of-14 from beyond the arc after 20 minutes of play.

ISU’s inside-out of Jay Tunnell and Rashad Reed have combined for 38 points after teaming up for 33 in the Sycamores 62-55 victory over Drake in the opening round Wednesday.

“I think Northern Iowa knows they were in a game,” ISU head coach Kevin McKenna said. “We just couldn’t match their physicality today.”

However, ISU faded over the final five minutes by missing five consecutive shots, turning a confident Sycamore team into a desperate squad down by five.

“It’s tough because you look up at the scoreboard and there’s seven minutes to go (and) we’re playing well,” Tunnell said. “We just couldn’t finish it off.”

UNI now moves on to play the winner of the Bradley/Southern Illinois game on Saturday at 1:35 p.m. The Panthers were a perfect 4-0 against both of those squads in the regular season.

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