CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Northern Iowa students rushed the court at the McLeod Center, turning it into a mass of humanity with bodies everywhere and little room to move.
The game felt like that all night for No. 15 Wichita State, which again struggled to score against a packed-in defense designed to make the Shockers shoot guarded jump shots and keep them off the backboards. Northern Iowa executed the plan well, knocking off WSU 57-52 on Saturday.
Wichita State (19-4, 8-3 Missouri Valley Conference) fell out of a tie with Creighton atop the MVC and its two-week run in the national rankings will likely end on Monday after an 0-2 week. Those items are secondary to solving the offensive problems that plague the Shockers. They overcame their limitations most of the season. It is harder to do in conference play and harder still to do on the road. WSU shot 40.4 percent from the field against Northern Iowa (12-11, 5-6), doomed by a six-minute scoreless stretch in the second half and two empty possessions in the final 15 seconds.
“We’ve got to play better than we did to win in a place like this,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We’re having a hard time scoring.”
The Shockers, after shooting a season-worst 27.1-percent in Tuesday’s 68-55 loss to Indiana State, chose their three-point shots more carefully and worked the ball into Carl Hall more often. Rarely, however, did the Shockers find any kind of rhythm and often looked hesistant with the ball. Nothing came easy, in part because of the Northern Iowa man-to-man defense that acted like a zone and kept the Shockers away from prime scoring territory. While Hall got more shots than he did Tuesday, Northern Iowa’s double-teams gave him lots of problems.
“It’s the same things Indiana State did,” Hall said. “And it worked. I turned the ball over. I’ve got to do a better job of trying to find somebody.”
UNI held WSU to a season-low 52 points and held its fifth straight opponent under 60. Hall scored 20 points and Cleanthony Early added 10 before fouling out. Nick Wiggins scored eight in 16 minutes off the bench.
The Shockers shot 46 percent in a 66-41 win over Northern Iowa to start MVC play. The Panthers are playing better defense in recent games and they made adjustments. Coach Ben Jacobson moved his perimeter defenders in to help protect the paint. Taking away three-pointers is a secondary concern against the Shockers.
“We wanted to make sure we had a lot of guys down on the block when they caught it,” he said.
Many times, a missed shot is a pass for the Shockers, who feast on offensive rebounds. UNI held them to seven, and four second-chance points.
“They crash the boards hard,” UNI center Seth Tuttle said. “We really stressed how important it is to not let them get second chances.”
The Panthers (12-11, 5-6) made two defensive stands in the final 1:30. Tuttle blocked a shot by WSU’s Nick Wiggins to preserve a 54-52 lead. Tuttle grabbed the rebound and then made one free throw for a 55-52 lead with 13.8 seconds to play.
“I just put my hands up, hoping to get a piece of it,” Tuttle said. “I happened to get a lot of the ball.”
After a Panthers timeout, WSU’s Malcolm Armstead dribbled off his foot and out of bounds with 5.9 seconds to play. Tuttle dunked for the final margin.
UNI almost blew the game open earlier in the half. Marshall hates to call timeouts. UNI’s 14-0 run forced him to burn two midway through the second half. Sonnen and Chip Rank contributed threes early in the run. Marshall called timeout with 9:50 to play and the Shockers down 40-36 after leading 36-32. UNI’s Anthony James took over with six points on short jumpers to give UNI a 46-36 lead and force another timeout with 7:21 to play.
“You’ve got to stop them from going on runs,” Hall said. “We didn’t really have time to respond and we weren’t capitalizing on offense.”