ST. LOUIS – A remarkable second-half turnaround enabled Northern Iowa to win the Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball tournament title Sunday.
The 30-3 Panthers overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to shock Illinois State, 69-60, in front of 13,552 fans at Scottrade Center. Northern Iowa clinched its NCAA tourney berth, while 21-12 ISU might be heading to the NIT.
“It’s amazing and indescribable,” said Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun, the son of former Alton High standout Troy Washpun. “We came out in the second half with an emphasis on defense and got stop after stop. We knew our offense would come around.”
Northern Iowa, the No. 2 tourney seed and ranked No. 11 in the country, went on a 32-7 spree — mostly early in the second half — to rankle the Redbirds. The Panthers’ Seth Tuttle, the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, led the charge. He finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Nate Buss added 15 points for Northern Iowa, which trailed 33-15 late in the first half.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Redbirds’ coach Dan Muller said. “We played great in the first half, then we couldn’t get going in the second half. They got the ball into Tuttle and he exerted his will.
“He was terrific in the second half.”
So were the rest of the Panthers. They made 13 of 24 second-half shots after connecting on just 7 of 30 in the first half.
“This game was different from just about any game I’ve been a part of,” said Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson, the Valley’s Coach of the Year. “ISU is very good, but give credit to our kids. They stuck with what we’ve been working on and getting the ball to Seth in the second half.”
ISU’s Daishon Knight and Reggie Lynch, plus Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet and Northern Iowa’s Buss joined Tuttle on the all-tourney team.
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT FOR THE SALUKIS — Although Southern Illinois University Carbondale finished 12-20 this season, coach Barry Hinson likes the look of the team for next year.
No wonder. Hinson started two sophomores and two freshmen, including 6-foot-2 guard Deion Lavender, a graduate of Marquette Catholic High, in SIUC’s final game. Thus the Salukis, who will welcome Saint Louis University and SIUE among their nonconference foes in 2015-16, are counting on a turnabout. They beat Missouri State and then lost to Wichita State in the Valley tournament.
The highlight of our season was the end of the season,” Hinson said Friday about the baby ’Dawgs. “What I saw today was a glimpse of the future and that’s encouraging. We gave everything we had.”
Teammate Jalen Pendleton said Lavender could develop as a pivotal player in the Salukis’ plans. It just took the first-year player time to decipher the learning curve.
“After a while, Deion picked up his game and he can play basketball,” Pendleton noted. “He can be a tremendous scorer for us.”
Junior guard Anthony Beane, the Salukis’ top gun, can’t wait for next season to begin. “All of the young guys have been positive. They are hungry and ready to work,” he said. “And they are from winning programs, so they know what it takes.”
Hinson added, “There’s never any replacement for experience. The point guard position wasn’t quite what we wanted this season. We will have more experience next year and also look at recruiting a point guard.”
The upbeat Hinson wasn’t disappointed by the Salukis’ play, even if it proved frustrating at times.
“I really appreciate what I get to do every day,” said Hinson, formerly the head coach at Missouri State. “I love this job and I love this conference.”
A GOOD TOURNEY FOR LOYOLA — Loyola of Chicago divided two tourney games and moved its record to 19-13. The Ramblers are gradually improving, coach Porter Moser said.
“I’m proud of how far we have taken the program to date,” he said. “The move into the league (in 2013) was harder than people think. I’m proud of where we moved it, but I’m not satisfied.”
It was Loyola joining the Valley two years ago after Creighton departed to join the Big East. The Ramblers, former members of the Horizon League, won the NCAA championship in 1963.
MVC WOMEN'S TOURNEY SET TO BEGIN — The MVC women’s basketball tournament plays out this weekend at the Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo. Play-in games are set Thursday, followed by quarterfinals Friday, semifinals Saturday and the championship game at 2 p.m. Sunday. There will be nine games in four days.
Wichita State is seeded first, followed by 20-9 Drake and 16-13 Missouri State in the 10-team field. SIUC earned the No. 5 seed and faces No. 5 Northern Iowa at 2:30 p.m. Friday. The 26-4 Shockers went 17-1 in the Valley and secured their first regular-season title. SIUC, 17-12 overall, has registered its most victories since 2006-07. The Salukis finished 10-8 in the MVC.