Panthers pour it on, paste North Dakota men

CEDAR FALLS – Second chance, same first impression.

The Northern Iowa men’s basketball team turned back North Dakota in its return trip to the McLeod Center on Wednesday night, as the Panthers led from start to finish in a 77-66 victory in the first round of the Tournament.

More than four months after they met the first time, the Panthers (19-14) duplicated the original outcome to advance to the second round of the CIT behind a pair of sharp-shooting guards.

Anthony James finished with a game-high 24 points and Marc Sonnen made five 3-pointers on his way to 19 points for Northern Iowa, which will host Illinois-Chicago (18-15) at 7 p.m. Saturday night back at the McLeod Center. The Flames beat Chicago State 80-69.

The Panthers also got 19 points from Seth Tuttle and used a pair of hefty runs on both sides of halftime to give head coach Ben Jacobson his fifth win in as many meetings with his alma mater.

North Dakota (16-17), which lost 72-47 on Nov. 17 in Cedar Falls, got 22 points from leading scorer Troy Huff in its season-ending loss. Jamal Webb added 11 points and UND also got 24 points from its bench, but none of it was enough to combat the 3-point proficiency of the Panthers.

Northern Iowa shot 6-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half, with Sonnen opening 2-for-4 as the Panthers leapt out to a 10-2 lead.

A 3-pointer by Huff, who did not play in the initial meeting with UNI, got North Dakota within 31-26 with 4:21 left in the first half, but the Panthers used a 10-2 spurt to go back in front by 13 at the intermission.

An 8-2 surge started the second half for the Panthers, putting UND in a 19-point hole it never dug out of. North Dakota got as close as nine, 66-57, before back-to-back buckets by Tuttle regained a double-digit advantage.

“We knew we needed to defend the 3-point line, but we didn’t do a good job of that in the first half,” said UND head coach Brian Jones, a Northern Iowa grad. “I think they hit seven on us and that was really the difference. Our defense picked up in the second half, but we need to have that energy throughout.”

James, Sonnen and Tuttle combined to score 62 of Northern Iowa’s 77 points. Deon Mitchell chipped in seven points and four assists, while fellow starter Jake Koch had just three points and a game-high seven rebounds before fouling out.

This marks the fourth season in a row in which Northern Iowa has won a postseason game.