Leading up to the NCAA Tournament match up between Northern Iowa and Wyoming, UNI Head Coach Ben Jacobsen identified many similarities between the two teams. Not only do the two teams focus on defense and a slower paced game, Jacobsen even claimed that he had studied Wyoming games in the past to improve his own team's defense.
The physicality of the game started early as a monster dunk that was called a charge set the tone.
Another glaring similarity is that both teams revolve around their 6'8" senior centerpiece big men. UNI's Seth Tuttle and Wyoming's Larry Nance, Jr. Both are their teams' driving forces on both sides of the ball, with tenacious toughness, powerful inside games, and strong defensive instincts.
The showdown between Nance and Tuttle resulted in a grit-for-the ages type effort, as Nance's defense and physicality forced Tuttle into uncharacteristic mistakes and a number of missed baskets that usually seemed to just glide in all year. On the other hand, Tuttle's defense more than agitated Nance, it completely limited him in the first half - holding him to zero field goals and only two points off free throws.
The second half seemed about the same until Nance caught fire coming out of a 15:20 time out. First came the energizing dunk. Then he tipped the ball in for a second straight basket. He followed those with a three, another dunk, a three, and an assist to senior guard Riley Grabau to cut the UNI lead to 10 after it had been 19 only a handful of minutes earlier.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys they never got any closer than 9 down. Although Nance continued to play well and Wyoming senior guard Charles Hankerson, Jr., finished with five threes for 15 points, the Panthers' depth is what ultimately propelled them to the win. Even without much contribution from starters Singleton and Morgan, UNI's bench scored 41 points total on the backs of team leading Paul Jesperson (16 points), Nate Buss (13 points), and Wes Washpun (10 points). As a comparison, the Wyoming bench only scored two points.
Another strong factor in the game's outcome was the number of free throws attempted, and what they did with them. UNI went to the line 18 times and converted 16 of them, while the Cowboys only made 3 of their 9 free throw attempts. The disparity may have not been the deciding factor, but it was largely responsible for Northern Iowa to rebuild its lead in the last quarter of the game.
Northern Iowa will now advance to the "third round" of the NCAA Tournament, where it will face the winner of the Louisville - UC Irvine game that begins at 4:10 ET this evening.