CEDAR FALLS, Iowa Ben Jacobson sat down at the table in the media room and attempted to clip a microphone to his tie. It's a process he's done countless times. Still, for some reason Wednesday night, the simple transformed into the nearly impossible.
After about 15 seconds of fiddling, the Northern Iowa video coordinator helped the head coach out, attaching the microphone to his tie. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they didn't have that type of help on the court against Indiana State.
The Panthers dribbled balls off their feet, collided into one another, missed free throws, clanked open looks, and passed up open shots. Just like in the postgame, the norm in the contest against the Sycamores became the unusual in a 65-61 Missouri Valley Conference loss.
"Everybody had opportunities to make shots," Northern Iowa guard Anthony James said. "We missed open shots, shots that we make nine of out 10 times; laypus, free throws. That's just on offense."
The list of issues could total more than the points the Panthers put up against the Sycamores. Northern Iowa entered the game leading the MVC in free throw percentage and ranked 23rd in the nation. Wednesday it shot 60 percent. In addition to scoring seven points less than what it averages, UNI turned the ball over 15 times, three more than usual. It's 42.6 percent from the field was right about on target, but only thanks to Seth Tuttle, who shot nine of 14 from the field. The rest of the team shot 14 of 40 or 35 percent.
"Tuttle, I told him after the game, I'm not looking forward to having to prepare for him," said Indiana State coach Greg Lansing, who improved to 4-1 against UNI. "He's really good. He's played awfully tough against us. He's one of the best bigs in the league."
Tuttle finished with a double-double, scoring a game-high 24 points and hauling in 10 boards. The sophomore power forward single-handily kept the Panthers within striking distance in the second half. In a 5:19 stretch toward the end of the second he reeled off 10 straight points. But without any help, the one-man run only cut the deficit from four to three.
But even Tuttle's game displayed flaws that usually aren't there. The sophomore fouled out contesting a Jake Odum jumper with 1:32 left in the game with this team down three.
"It was a great move," Tuttle said. "And I didn't follow our kind of defense. I left my feet."
Still, even then the Panthers had a chance. Chip Rank hit a 3, with 36.3 left the first player not named Tuttle to score in 9:29. The long range jumper sliced the lead to four and the Sycamores aided the comeback by heading to the line four times and making only one free throw each time.
With 6.5 left, UNI inbounded the ball from midcourt, but again the easy became complex. Deon Mitchell inbounded the pass to Marc Sonnen, who stepped out of bounds, ending the comeback and a game that won't be easy for the Panthers to forget.