Less than 24 hours after slaying second-ranked Arizona, North Carolina State fell victim to the upset bug as Northern Iowa rallied for a 64-60 victory over the Wolfpack in a Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal on Thursday afternoon in Nassau, Bahamas.
Northern Iowa (5-1) trailed by seven points midway through the second half, but extended its winning streak to five games behind freshman guard Tywhon Pickford (18 points, 18 rebounds) and 6-foot-10 senior forward Bennett Koch (16 points). The Panthers play No. 5 Villanova (5-0) on Friday in the championship game.
North Carolina State, which got 17 points and 13 rebounds off the bench from sophomore center Omer Yurtseven, will face Tennessee (3-1) for third.
The Panthers limited the Wolfpack to 34 percent shooting from the field.
Northern Iowa and North Carolina State (5-1) battled for control of the game’s tempo from the start. The Wolfpack entered the game averaging 90.2 points per game while the Panthers had held foes to 47.5 points per game during their four-game winning streak.
Northern Iowa, content to run most of the shot clock each possession, relied on nine early points from sophomore point guard Juwan McCloud to take a 19-12 lead at the 11:53 mark.
The Wolfpack heated things up with full-court pressure that forced Northern Iowa to play a little faster and kept them off the board for 5:15. Meanwhile, with senior post Lennard Freeman and his 14.6 scoring average stuck on the bench with two quick fouls, 7-footer Yurtseven entered the game and became N.C. State’s go-to guy.
Yurtseven delivered seven points and seven rebounds in the first half as the Wolfpack pulled into a 32-32 tie at the break.
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Baskets were just as hard to find in the second half. After Koch made a layup to make it a 40-40 tie with 15:37 to play, the Panthers scored just two points over the next six-plus minutes as North Carolina State seized a 49-42 lead.
Northern Iowa gradually got back into the game and regained the lead, 52-51, on a pair of Koch free throws with 5:40 to play. The Panthers rode Koch down the stretch as he delivered eight straight points as UNI kept pace with North Carolina State into the final 90 seconds.
That’s when McCloud and Klint Carlson drove for layups that gave the Panthers a 62-58 lead with 14 seconds left. Yurtseven’s putback cut the margin to two with 4.7 seconds left, but sophomore guard Isaiah Brown made two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to clinch the win.