EVANSVILLE, Indiana — Northern Iowa's vaunted defense lived up to its billing. That wasn't enough to hold off Evansville.
D.J. Balentine scored 17 points and the Purple Aces came all the way back from 16 down to beat No. 23 UNI 52-49 on Thursday night.
"We did not rebound well enough to finish it off," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "And if we had finished off possessions in the second half, we were going to win."
Jeremy Morgan's desperation 3-pointer in the final second sailed well to the left.
"They stepped up their game in the second half and we were not able to handle it," Tuttle said. "We never really got a run going in the second half. That credit goes to them, I guess. We had a couple of opportunities, but we didn't execute."
The Panthers came into the game allowing opponents to shoot just 39.5 percent from the field, best in the conference.
And for one half, Northern Iowa's swarming defense completely frustrated Evansville, holding the Purple Aces to 20 points on 30.4 percent shooting as the Panthers built a lead as large as 16.
The second half was a different story.
UNI led 28-12 late in the first following Tuttle's one-handed shot as he drifted across the lane, but Evansville pulled to 30-20 at halftime. The Purple Aces shot 7 of 23 from the floor in the period, including 0 of 7 on 3-pointers.
"We felt fortunate to only be down 10 at half, to be honest," Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. "Northern Iowa is a great defensive team. But I thought we had a little better movement, and a little bit better execution in the second half. I thought our guys showed some grit."
Evansville never did find its shooting touch, ending the game at 32.7 percent (16 for 49), but used offensive rebounding to get numerous second chances. The Purple Aces finished with 14 offensive rebounds to three for UNI.
Evansville pulled to 36-35 with 10:57 to play on Duane Gibson's bank shot, and it was back and forth from there. Tuttle's 3-pointer with 6:12 left briefly pushed the Panthers' lead back to 41-35, but the Purple Aces hit 13 of 14 free throws in the second half to make up the difference.
"We did most of what we set out to do in that first half," Jacobson said. "But I would like to have had a little bit better finish to that first half. But at the start of the second half it did not feel like we were getting great possessions offensively. In the last 10 or 12 minutes we had good possessions, but we did not get points from them."
Northern Iowa: UNI's bench came in as the eighth-leading scoring group in the country. Despite the loss, the Panthers' reserves outscored the Purple Aces' bench 22-8.
Evansville: Balentine had scored at least 20 points in eight straight games.
Northern Iowa plays at home against Loyola on Sunday.
Evansville plays at Indiana State on Sunday.
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