Seth Tuttle felt as much pressure to miss a free throw as he had moments earlier to make one.
Tuttle sank two free throws with 1.3 seconds left and finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead Northern Iowa to a 67-65 win over Saint Joseph's on Wednesday night in the opening round of the NIT.
Tuttle made the first pressure-packed free throw for the lead. On the second, coach Ben Jacobson told Tuttle to miss. He bent his knees, fired at the backboard and _ bam. Off the glass, around the rim and through the net for a two-point Northern Iowa lead.
“I didn't get what he wanted,” Tuttle said.
Not exactly. The Panthers did get a postseason win.
Marc Sonnen scored 15 points for the Panthers (20-13), who play at Drexel in the second round. The Dragons advanced with an 81-56 win over Central Florida.
Ronald Roberts Jr. tied the game for the Hawks (20-14) on a thunderous dunk with 7 seconds left to bring them back after they trailed most of the second half.
But Roberts fouled Tuttle with the game tied at 65. Hawks coach Phil Martelli pounded the scorer's table in frustration. Tuttle made the first and on the second, the ball rattled around and in for a 67-65 lead.
The Hawks turned the ball over on their last possession.
Jacobson said the free-throw miss was the right call because he didn't want to give the Hawks time to set up a final play.
“In that situation, it feels like missing is the right thing to do,” he said. “When he banks it in, you wonder if that is going to come back and get us.”
He should have had a Saint Joseph's player try for him. The Hawks were 13 of 22 from the free throw line and missed 15 of 21 3-point attempts.
“Those numbers in the postseason are going to get you,” Martelli said.
Carl Jones scored 24 points and C.J. Aiken had 16 for the Hawks. Halil Kanacevic grabbed 12 rebounds.
The Hawks, playing in the postseason for the first time since 2008, bounced back strong this season after 20 losses in 2009-10 and 22 losses on 2010-11. They knocked off NCAA tournament teams Creighton, Temple and Western Kentucky and have no seniors. The future is bright on Hawk Hill.
On this night, next season and beyond didn't matter.
“It means nothing,” Martelli said. “This was an opportunity that needed to be embraced. Postseason. Home game. Advancement on the line. For 40 minutes, on every possession, we didn't embrace it.”
The Panthers sure did. They were the mid-major darlings of the NCAA tournament when they knocked out Kansas in 2010 and advanced to the round of 16.
“It just changes everything when you win and go to the Sweet 16,” Jacobson said.
NIU hasn't slipped into obscurity. The Panthers played in the CIT last season and their win over Saint Joseph's gives them 20 wins for the fourth straight season.
The Panthers are in no rush to leave the NIT. Hey, they aren't even in a hurry to leave Philadelphia. They'll stay in the city until they play the Dragons. The Dragons were considered one of the bigger snubs from the NCAA field, then went out and trounced Central Florida.
“I don't know if excited is a word I would use to be playing against them,” Jacobson said, smiling. “I know the guys are excited we were able to get a win.”
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