The top seed in the Missouri Valley Tournament, Loyola, ended any hope of a miracle Northern Iowa run to the NCAA Tournament on Friday, beating the Panthers, 54-50, in the quarterfinals at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
“It was a classic Valley game, especially with Northern Iowa,” Loyola Coach Porter Moser said. “It was gritty. It was tough. It was ugly at times. Just crazy how well they defend. They really guard you.”
Wyatt Lohaus hit a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to cut the lead to three. UNI had a chance to tie, but Isaiah Brown missed a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, and Loyola’s Lucas Williamson got the rebound, and made both foul shots with 10 seconds left.
Tywhon Pickford tipped in a missed 3-pointer by Lohaus with three seconds left, but UNI got no closer.
“They got 54 points. That’s good enough for us to move on,” UNI Coach Ben Jacobson said. “We needed to make one or two more, and maybe they miss one more, and that’s enough. It was that kind of game.”
UNI (16-16) went on an 8-0 run early in the second half to lead, 37-33, but it didn’t last. Loyola (26-5) built its lead up to as many as eight points before the Panthers rallied at the end.
“I thought we had some good looks we just didn’t get, maybe a couple of turnovers and there,” UNI’s Hunter Rhodes said. “About the eight or nine-minute mark, we had the stretch where we got some baskets and got some stops, and hit that little stretch where we couldn’t get much going.”
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The Panthers held MVC Player of the Year Clayton Custer to just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. Donte Ingram and Marques Townes each had 13 points for the Ramblers, who won their eighth in a row.
Bennett Koch had a game-high 20 points, Rhodes had nine points and nine assists, and Klint Carlson grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. Those three, plus Ted Friedman, are the departing seniors for UNI.
“We had a great November/December, and that was fun,” Jacobson said. “Once you put yourself behind the 8-ball that much, at 0-5, everything’s got to go perfect to finish in the top four. In saying that, we weren’t too far off it. Even though we didn’t find everything here until probably the last three weeks. But we were playing our best basketball when it mattered most.
“And we had — I think no matter which way you slice this game up here — we had the same chance to win today as Loyola did, and they’ve got a terrific team. I’m just proud of our guys for ... we were fighting uphill the entire conference season, and we still played our best in the last three weeks. That says a lot about the four seniors we’ve got. Those guys were pretty special that way.”