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Weber State ends UNI's season
By Michael Bonner and Josh Christensen
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Updated: 30 March 2013 | 9:10 pm in Basketball, Sports, Uncategorized, UNI Panthers
UNI Sweet 16 seniors' career ends as shots don't fall
Panthers shoot season worst from 3 in CIT semifinals
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CEDAR FALLS – Jake Koch walked into the backcourt in disbelief. With his team down three the Northern Iowa senior missed two free throws with four seconds remaining. Marc Sonnen tried to erase Koch's memory with a pat on the back, telling the 6-8 forward, "It's OK."
A Weber State missed free throw opened the door for Koch to make it OK. The 6-8 forward had one final shot left in his UNI career. It wasn't a storybook ending. His fadeaway 3-pointer barely grazed the rim and Weber State (30-6) advanced to the CIT final with a 59-56 win at the McLeod Center on Saturday.
"It got all the way down to the last second," Sonnen said. "I still believed that Jake was going to hit that. It didn't go in but I had faith that he was going to hit it. It didn't go in, but that's what happens in the game of basketball."
Koch's heave marked Northern Iowa's 18th attempt beyond the arc. Only 3 of the 18 fell for the Panthers, equaling the worst shooting performance from deep all year. Twice prior, the Panthers made three 3-pointers – both losses. Their previous low point came against Wichita State when UNI(21-15) shot 3 of 17 from 3.
"I thought they were shots that we've had all year," Sonnen said. "You know, the ball just didn't go in the hoop, and sometimes that happens."
The Panthers' start to the game highlighted their struggles of putting the ball in the hoop. Weber State began the game on an 11-0 run as UNI missed its first seven shots.
After finally getting one to fall, Northern Iowa closed the half shooting 12 of 20, but only cut the 11-point lead to seven.
The Panthers made 30 percent of its shots in the second half. UNI gained ground defensively, holding Weber State to 6 of 25 shooting in the final 20 minutes.
"Once we got our defense going, they weren't open as much and they didn't get much in the second half for points," UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said. "But we couldn't quite get all the way back."
Northern Iowa took its first lead with 14:01 remaining in the game with a Seth Tuttle layup. The sophomore, who led UNI with 16 points and 10 rebounds, ignited the 5,033 in attendance with a dunk to give UNI a 55-53 lead with 5:53 left.
Like it did all night, Weber State responded. UNI cut the Weber State lead nine times to a single possession and could only take the lead twice.
The Wildcats gave the Panthers opportunities making one field goal the final 7:55. But after the Tuttle's slam, UNI didn't make another shot from the field.
"We had a couple around the basket, under that 30 seconds, around that time we had three layups," Jacobson said.
Seniors Koch and Anthony James missed two of those three layups. Koch ended his UNI career with a 1 for 10 shooting performance and five turnovers. He also finished 0 for 6 from beyond the arc, including the miss at the buzzer.
Koch didn't speak after the game, but Sonnen did. As he walked into the media room, his face showed it wasn't OK. He composed himself just as he stepped through the doorway, his eyes still puffy from the tears in the locker room.
"It's the best four years I could ever ask for out of anything," Sonnen said.
The four years chronicled the highest of highs for the Panther program including a trip to the Sweet 16 as freshmen.
"You think about the number of things that have happened over the last four and five years, these four guys have been involved in all kinds stuff," Jacobson said. "Most of it really, really good and really, really fun and very positive for our program."
As freshmen they walked off the court in St. Louis in the NCAA Tournament. Saturday, the McLeod Center housed their final game. The setting shrunk and with a Missouri Valley Conference team earning a berth in the Final Four, not many college basketball fans even noticed the end of Austin Pehl, James, Sonnen and Koch's careers.
But for their head coach, there's no regrets.
"Because of the way these guys handled themselves I'm not going to spend any time feeling like we didn't reach our potential or feeling like 'Boy we missed a couple opportunities,'" Jacobson said. "When I talk about it or, it comes up, I'll feel good about it."