NORMAL – With 13.5 seconds left, Illinois State basketball coach Dan Muller told the Redbirds to back off and let the clock run out Saturday night.
He wasn’t alone. Much of the Redbird Arena crowd of 6,951 had already made its way to the exits wondering what has happened to ISU in the last seven days.
Anthony James and Seth Tuttle each scored 19 points as Northern Iowa handed ISU a 70-60 loss in a Missouri Valley Conference game - the team's third loss in a row.
After being picked to finish second in the Valley preseason poll, the Redbirds (9-6) are off to a 0-3 league start heading to Missouri State on Tuesday.
“I’m very disappointed in our performance and pretty embarrassed by the way we played tonight because in the end it’s my responsibility to get our team to play and perform. We certainly did not,” said Muller.
“We’ve got to get some individuals playing better, and we have to play harder. We had a big game tonight and we didn’t show up.”
Jackie Carmichael paced ISU (9-6, 0-3) with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Tyler Brown added 12 points, while Johnny Hill had 10.
“I was in a similar position as this my sophomore year. Obviously, I don’t think that it will go the way that season ended (4-14 in the Valley). We have things we need to fix," said Carmichael.
“There’s no reason to panic. It’s the beginning of the season. Obviously we’re capable of winning big games. We want our fans and everyone to stick with us.”
UNI (8-7, 1-2) shot 48.9 percent from the field and made 17 of 21 free throws in winning for the seventh time in last 10 games at Redbird Arena.
“It was a huge win,” said UNI coach Ben Jacobson. “I thought the guys really did a nice job competing hard. We competed on most every possession.”
The Redbirds played without starting guard Bryant Allen. The junior, who is ISU’s third-leading scorer with a 9.8 average, is dealing with a recurring flare up of a right ankle issue dating back to his days as a University of Minnesota football player in 2010. His status is day-to-day.
Marc Sonnen, who finished with 16 points, sank four key baskets as ISU was trying to rally in the second half. His 3-pointer with 6:30 left put the Panthers ahead, 55-46.
“He hasn’t been able to get free much the last couple games. The ones he made I would not say he was free,” said Jacobson of Sonnen. “He rose up and knocked in some tough shots.”
Hill tried to spark ISU. He sank a floater and then a layup off a nice feed from Carmichael. When Brown scored on a short bank shot on a fast break, the Redbirds trailed 55-52, with 3:32 left.
That was as close as the Redbirds got. The Panthers scored the next seven points to put the game away.
“We’ve never been a team that forced things. I think the game comes to a lot of us individually and that makes us better collectively,” said Hill. “If guys go out there and play free and play for each other, that’s how we’ll get this thing going.”
ISU shot 45.8 percent from the field, but were only 2 of 18 on 3-pointers. The Redbirds made four of five free throws.
“We have some individual shooters I’ve got to get shooting better who haven’t shot well for a few games. It bit us tonight,” said Muller. “Not having one of shooters on the court whose been shooting it better (Allen) probably hurt us. We didn’t shoot it well or get to the foul line. We didn’t do a lot of things well tonight.”
There was a four-point swing early in the second half after ISU battled back from a 12-point deficit to trail, 29-24, at the break.
Kaza Keane drove inside and appeared to score on a layup. But Keane was whistled for an offensive foul as Jake Koch was hit in the head. After reviewing the replay, officials gave Keane an elbow-to-the-head foul and UNI’s Matt Bohannon converted two free throws.
However, that play seemed to wake up ISU. Carmichael followed with a rebound dunk, Keane scored on a floater and Carmichael hit a bank shot to bring the Redbirds within 31-30.
Brown then committed turnovers on three straight possessions, stalling the Redbirds’ momentum as UNI regained control and a 39-32 lead with 14:26 left.
ISU appeared tight at the start, making one of its first seven shots, but went ahead 9-7 on Brown’s steal and layup. But the Redbirds then went in a real funk, going almost four minutes without scoring as UNI went on an 11-0 run.
James and Tuttle helped the Panthers build the lead to 25-13 before ISU ditched a 2-3 zone and went to a man-to-man defense. James’ 17-footer put the Panthers ahead, 27-15, before ISU ended the half on a 9-2 run thanks to two Carmichael dunks to trail, 29-24.
Carmichael already put together a double-double by halftime with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The Redbirds shot 37 percent from the field with nine turnovers.
“Jackie was terrific. I thought he played with energy and some urgency all night," said Muller. "I think guys wanted to perform and play, but in the end you have to do it. We looked sluggish. Guys didn’t play well. We just didn’t get it done any way possible.”