ST. LOUIS (AP) — Seth Tuttle had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists, leading No. 11 Northern Iowa back from an 18-point first-half deficit to beat Illinois State 69-60 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game on Sunday.
Nate Buss scored 15 points and the Panthers (30-3) took control with a 25-4 run that erased a 36-22 deficit at the break. Jeremy Morgan had three 3-pointers in the run and Tuttle, the Valley player of the year and tournament MVP, added eight points, often getting loose from constant double-teaming.
Daishon Knight had 16 points for fourth-seeded Illinois State (21-12), which needed a win to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Knight had 25 points in the Redbirds’ semifinal upset of top seed Wichita State.
Northern Iowa won the title for the third time in seven years and has won 19 of 20 games.
The winners shot 23 percent in the first half and 54 percent the rest of the way, and held Illinois State to 33 percent in the second half.
Illinois State made eight of its first 12 shots, four of them 3-pointers, and led 33-15 with 2:44 to go in the half. Reserve Justin McCloud made all three of his 3-point attempts. The 18-point bulge was four points more than Northern Iowa’s largest margin of defeat in a loss at Wichita State that decided the Valley title in the regular season finale.
Northern Iowa began the game just 5 for 27 from the field, three of the shots swatted back by Reggie Lynch, and trailed by 14 at the break.
Illinois State: McCloud totaled nine points in the first two tournament games and reached double figures in one of the previous 17 games. … Coach Dan Muller played for the Redbirds’ last tourney title team.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers went almost 7 minutes between points during one stretch in the first half, then hit seven of their first nine shots after the break.
Illinois State: NIT, maybe.
Northern Iowa: NCAA Tournament.
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