I'd like to start by cleaning up the mess that the announcers made.
As the game between Wichita State and Northern Iowa wound down, these gentlemen were lamenting a stretch of play where senior guard Anthony Edwards was "not being the senior leader" the Panthers needed to be by going to the free throw line on three consecutive possessions, and each time making the first and missing the second.
It was during this time that the men behind the mics tried to paint UNI as an inept charity-stripe squad who had come into tonight suffering consecutive close losses (to Evansville and Indiana State by four total points) primarily because of their ineptitude closing out games at the free throw line.
This is, for lack of a better term, a lie. It's an innocent lie born of laziness, but a lie nonetheless. How do I know? Because I spent five minutes reading over their stats, and this is what I found out:
- The Panthers shoot 75.7% at the free-throw line for the season, good enough to almost crack the top ten nationally.
- In their six contests decided by five points or less (which, coincidentally, includes both games against Evansville and both games against Indiana State, as well as their losses to Louisville and Memphis), they shot 73% 46-63) from the line overall and 77% (13-17) in the last five minutes of those contests.
The only poor shooting game in that group was a 9-for-15 outing in the most recent Indiana State matchup, but almost all their free throw attempts were in the first half. And while it was true in their most recent game that the few free throws they missed were very costly - two of their four misses were the front end of one-and-ones in the final 45 seconds of a three-point loss - it is a far cry from some team-wide pandemic in need of a remedy.
Anyway, more importantly, the Panthers stifled Wichita State on offense. Sure, Carl Hall got his 20 points, but the rest of the team shot 33%, and Cleanthony Early - the only other Shocker to score in double-digits - fouled out with just under three minutes to play by going for an ill-advised steal attempt in the middle of a press defense.
Wichita opened the second half on a 7-0 run to get out ahead, but that was followed by an impressive 23-6 run by the Panthers that started with aggressive, stifling defense and ended with Anthony James going on a personal 6-0 scoring run.
That said, the hero of the night was the very guy I left out of my preseason top-10: Seth Tuttle. He was the key cog in UNI's defensive success, and he recorded his team-high fourth block of the night by stuffing Malcolm Armstead's lay-up as the clock wound down to seal the win for the Panthers.
It's hard to tell now how the Missouri Valley will play out, but a win like tonight will go a long way to helping the Panthers finish the season strong.