WICHITA, KANSAS---Last year, on the last Saturday of regular season play in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Northern Iowa Panthers walked into Charles Koch Arena for a highly anticipated "winner-take-all" regular season champion deciding showdown with the Wichita State Shockers.
It didn't go well.
Frustrated for the whole 40 minutes, Seth Tuttle was unable to match the production of the Shockers' backcourt in a 74-60 loss.
Today was UNI's redemption.
Back in town for another nationally televised contest, the Panthers pestered and contained Wichita State's "star senior" duo of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker to 20 points on 8-of-31 shooting, while receiving big lifts of the bench from Wyatt Lohaus and Klint Carlson to pick up their third victory against a ranked opponent and extend their current winning streak to six.
A three-point shootout for the first two plus minutes, the Panthers and Shockers opened up the contest red hot from beyond the arc as they combined to make their first four of five attempts (6-6). Though, eventually both cooled off resulting in a lack of points in addition to Wichita State stealing a four-point edge on back-to-back baskets by Ron Baker (12-8 WICH).
Here we go! The beehive was rumbling loudly and the Shockers had the chance to pull away immediately.
But they didn't.
For the next eleven minutes, back and forth basket-trading ensued, for there was seven lead changes between the two MVC powerhouses. Or that was until the Panthers pounced on their prey with a bench driven 12-0 end of half spurt. Wyatt Lohaus and Klint Carlson were huge during the span of 3 minutes and 36 seconds as their energy and production supplied the last ten points (eight by Carlson and two from Lohaus). 38-27 Northern Iowa! Maybe this wouldn't be as easy as originally anticipated for the Shockers.
Back after halftime, UNI's starters became involved in the scoring to extend their lead to a game-high 15 with the first four points of the second twenty minutes (42-27 UNI).
What was going on with Wichita State? Would head coach Gregg Marshall burn a timeout?
Surprisingly no! His team didn't need the wake-up call since Markis McDuffie nailed a three-pointer that spurred a 17-2 domination by Wichita State. In fact, with the "fab freshman's" aforementioned basket, triples became infectious as Fred VanVleet finally put points next to his name with back-to-back twine ticklers from beyond. We had ourselves a ball game! And more specifically, a tied score at 44.
Unlike the commencement of the matchup, both teams went into a shooting slump at the same time.
In fact, the next eight shots were clanked before Lohaus netted a pair of jumpers to break the silent stretch. 48-44 Panthers!
And UNI wasn't done! Matt Bohannon broke free and splashed a three-pointer to push the edge to 7 with just over five minutes remaining in regulation (51-44 UNI).
But the Shockers were not down and out! Thanks to Zach Brown making a three-point of his own and Shaq Morris slamming a dunk home, Wichita State was able to weather the storm and be down only four with under a minute remaining.
Succeeding a missed three-pointer by Lohaus, two-time All-Missouri Valley Conference first teamer Fred VanVleet pushed the ball upcourt and drove to the rim. Off the mark! He missed the layup! Yet, Morris was right there for the offensive rebound and went up with the attempt. Clank! However, he was fouled.
The 6'7" sophomore stepped to the line as a 63.6% charity stripe shooter with an opportunity to wither the deficit to two. Boing! Swish! The Panthers still had a three-point advantage.
Running as much time off the clock as possible, Wes Washpun held the ball at the top of the key before starting his attack and firing a jumper. He was blocked by Brown! The Shockers would have a chance to tie!
But, who would take the shot? Baker, who had been hot to start the game, or a recently successful VanVleet? It would be the prior for Baker let one go for the tie. Clank! Though, it went out of bounds off the Panthers, meaning the opportunity to tie was once more available.
The ball would be thrown in right of Wichita State's basket on the baseline. The ball was handed to and slapped by the inbounder. The Shockers' ran their routes, and the Panthers had a defensive breakdown at the worst time possible, leaving Conner Frankamp wide open in the corner.
The ball went unopposed into the hands of the sharpshooter and then soared towards the basket. It hit the rim closest to him and bounced away from the cylinder as time expired. Northern Iowa had become the first team in 43 games to beat the Shockers at home.
Defense is Key
Normally known for their sharpshooting from downtown, the Northern Iowa Panthers took a page from the Loyola (IL) Ramblers playbook by turning their focus to stopping their opponent from scoring rather than scoring the basketball themselves. And, it worked!
Northern Iowa ended up holding the Shockers to the horrific shooting percentage of 30.3% despite allowing 20 second chances in the form of offensive rebounds. Moreover, they switched defensive sets, not just over the course of the game, but on individual possessions. Specifically, the Panthers would play man-to-man when Fred VanVleet didn't have the ball and then match-up zone when Wichita State's floor general gained possession. Why? In a 1-2-2 or 2-3 set, there are very few gaps that can be exploited without excellent maneuvering and quick feet. Both of which VanVleet did not have today.
On the offensive end, Klint Carlson led the way with 12 points (5 rebounds) and Wyatt Lohaus stuffed the statsheet with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Matt Bohannon chipped in 9 on 3 triples while Wes Washpun had 8.
On Wednesday, the 16-11 (8-6) Northern Iowa Panthers will head to the "Windy City," Chicago, Illinois, for a date with Loyola (IL).
"Where'd Y'all Go?"
Heralded as the best backcourt in the Missouri Valley Conference, Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Conner Frankamp were shutdown by a team that knows how to score the basketball. The trio, normally responsible for 32 points, was prevented from getting into a rhythm, aside from consecutive deuces by Baker in the first and back-to-back triples from VanVleet during the 17-2 run. Furthermore, they concluded the afternoon a combined 8-for-36 from the field and 4-of-19 on three-pointers.
Could we have just found the "notorious" Wichita State Shockers kryptonite? Their inefficiency against a zone defense? Time will tell.
18-7 (12-2) Wichita State will host New Mexico State in a make-up non-conference contest on Monday before welcoming Missouri State inside Charles Koch Arena Thursday.
Sliding Back to Pack
Just over a week ago, life was great in Wichita, Kansas. Why? The Shockers were 10-0 and coming off season sweeps of the top two challengers (Evansville and Southern Illinois).
Things have changed.
Wichita State, 2-2 in their last four, has now showed vulnerability while allowing Illinois State to possibly draw within two games with a win tomorrow. Could matters become worse? Not likely, but it is always possible!