Updated Feb 23, 2003 12:05:44
Bulldogs Fall To Northern Iowa On ESPN Backet Buster Saturday
RUSTON, La. -- Northern Iowa used the perimeter to pick up the win as the Panthers took a 76-71 win before a crowd of 2,962 at Louisiana Tech as part of ESPN's Bracket Buster Saturday package.
The ESPN Bracket Buster games provided mid-major teams with a national television showcase and an opportunity to increase their 2003 Rating Percentage Indexes (RPIs) for possible NCAA or NIT tournament selection. There were 18 teams representing seven conferences Saturday with ESPN televising one contest and ESPN-2 broadcasting four other games.
Tech fell to 12-11 overall with the loss while Northern Iowa moved to 9-15.
The Panthers hit on 51.8 percent (29-of-56) of their shots from the floor and 45 percent (9-of-20) of their 3-point attempts as Northern Iowa stayed outside much of the game to avoid the bigger Bulldogs in the paint.
"You have to give credit where credit is due, and Northern Iowa walked in here and for 40 minutes they did a great job in executing their offense," Tech coach Keith Richard said. "They hit big shot after big shot. We couldn't guard them. They were especially good from 3-point range. They had four players on the court all the time who could hit the big 3-pointer with an open look."
Northern Iowa's nine 3-pointers were the second most against Tech this season. Rice put in 10 treys in a Jan. 25 home win over the Bulldogs.
Richard said he was especially impressed with Northern Iowa's guards, who looked to penetrate if the Bulldogs came out to defend the 3-point shot.
"Those guards were something else," Richard said. "They either shot the big 3-pointers or they took us off the dribble and went for the layup. They exposed our weaknesses as well as anyone we've played this season."
The Bulldogs started slow, hitting on 38.2 percent (13-of-34) of their shots from the floor in the first half as Tech found itself down 38-32 at intermission. The Bulldogs hit on 51.6 percent of their second-half shots but couldn't slow down the hot-shooting Panthers.
"We played better offense in the second half," Richard said. "Our kids played hard. We just didn't get the big stops when we needed them."
Tech tried to work the ball inside to forward Antonio "Tiger" Meeking, who entered the game as the No. 3 scorer in the WAC with 19.5 points per game. Meeking hit on 9-of-15 shots from the floor for 23 points to lead all scorers, but it still wasn't enough.
"We just didn't have enough offense," Richard said. "We got it to Tiger as much as we could against that zone defense they were playing. We missed a lot of shots."
Richard said the Bulldogs weren't surprised by Northern Iowa's ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter.
"They've shot good all season long," Richards said. "They've been shooting 46 or 47 percent, even from 3-point range, all season long. They zoned us defensively and took chances. We shot 28.6 percent from 3-point range, and that won't win games when the other team is shooting like they were."
Even while they were struggling the Bulldogs had a chance at the end, cutting the Northern Iowa advantage to 74-71 with 47 seconds remaining on a Darrian Brown 3-pointer.
The Panthers missed the ensuing shot on their end, giving the Bulldogs a chance to tie back on the other end of the floor. But Lavelle Felton's 3-point attempt to tie with six seconds left was off mark, and Northern Iowa's David Gruber rebounded and then connected on a pair of free throws to secure the win for the Panthers.
Brown scored 14 for Tech, including a pair of treys, while Michael Wilder and Felton hit for 10 points each.
Tech's Zach Johnson led all rebounders with 10, but Northern Iowa won the battle of the boards 34-32. Gruber led the Panthers with nine boards along with 15 points.
Ben Jacobson scored 17 to lead Northern Iowa, followed by Gruber and Matt Schneiderman with 15 each and Ryan Paulsen with 12.
Louisiana Tech returns to Western Athletic Conference action on Thursday when the Bulldogs take to the road for an 8 p.m. contest at the University of Texas-El Paso.