CEDAR FALLS – The postgame high fives became postgame thank yous. Deon Mitchell sat alone deflecting credit to Seth Tuttle’s steal. Tuttle acknowledged Jake Koch’s appreciated the same play.
Sitting next to Tuttle, senior guard Marc Sonnen threw even more props his teammates.
“If you’re not playing that well, we’ve got teammates that lift you. Deon’s lifting people, and that’s something, he’s getting way better,” Sonnen said. “He’s playing so amazing right now. He gets us all jacked up.”
But don’t forget his partner in crime, “And same with him,” Sonnen continued, nodding toward Tuttle.
The sophomore tandem could try to bypass all the compliments, but their performances wouldn’t allow it. Mitchell dropped 27 and Tuttle scored 21 points to lead the Panthers to an 84-81 win over Toledo Wednesday night. Nine of Tuttle’s points came in overtime.
“I’m not sure, it just kind of came to me there in overtime,” Tuttle said. But its wasn’t his point total that had Koch and Mitchell giving him props, it was one of his two steals. It came when Toledo inbounded the ball underneath its own basket, trailing by one with nine seconds left. It was a result of Koch asking for timeout, but receiving a five-second call.
“A guy cut backdoor that I seen. I just turned and threw it right to my hands,” Tuttle said. “It wasn’t, I just kind of happened, I guess…It just kind of bounced off my hand. It was just kind of flukish, but we’ll take it that’s for sure.”
Whatever he did, Tuttle came up with the steal and went down to the other end of the court and made both free throws. Up by three on the ensuing possession, the Panthers held Toledo to a last second fadaway heave from 25 feet out.
“With our experience and just how tough our guys is on the team, we just know that when we go out there we trust each other,” senior Marc Sonnen said. “I think that’s what makes it a lot better this year, is we are focused on getting a stop not matter what happens.”
While the Panthers trusted Tuttle in overtime, they leaned on another sophomore through the first 40 minutes of the game.
Mitchell carried the Panthers in the first half, dropping 16 points, along with four assists. His career highs entering the game were 18 and six respectively.
“He’s prepared himself very well. We saw that again tonight,” Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobsen said. “We’ve seen it in all four games now. He did it tonight against a good team tonight and against, for the most part experienced guards… Boy that stretch in the first half was impressive.”
At one point, Mitchell scored eight straight points for the Panthers, securing a lead as they went into the locker room.
He didn’t stop in the second half, with the game tied at 59 with less than four to play, he pulled off a behind the back dribble to slice to the left side and kiss it softly off the glass. When the Panthers finally walked away with a win, Mitchell set a career high in points for the second straight game. In the opener he dropped 18 on Wartburg. Wednesday he topped that with 27.
“I don’t get in (the zone) a lot but when I do it feels good,” Mitchell said. “I just feel like everything can go in, so I just keep going.”
The two sophomores teamed up in the overtime period. Tuttle racked up the numbers, but Mitchell played the key role in the second most important play of the extra time. Mitchell picked the pocked of a Toledo guard and steamed ahead for a layup. Dominique Buckley fouled Mitchell hard, which drew an intentional foul call. Mitchell converted both free throws and Tuttle finished the possession with a layup.
The second year duo, combined to score 48 points while attempting 20 shots from the field. Tuttle also pulled down 10 boards and tied a career high making nine free throws. Mitchell finished with five assists, one shy of tying a career high.
Wednesday the Panthers needed every one of those points, rebounds and assists, but were never worried someone wasn’t going to get them.
“We just know each other so much better that when it comes down to games like this,” Sonnen said. “We feel confident we’re going to pull it out.”
Bohannon gets nod
With Anthony James serving a three game suspension, Matt Bohannon started his second straight game to open the season. He was also on the court late in the game.
Bohannon struggled in the early going. In the Panthers’ first two possessions he turned the ball over then followed it up with an airball.
The Linn-Mar graduate missed his first five shots to start the game and ended his line going 1 of 8 from the field. He did make a 3 in the second half and went 4 for 4 from the line. Two of his free throws came at a critical point in the game. With 1:11 remaining in the game, the redshirt freshman drilled both free throws to tie the game at 68.
“He’s going to make shots. He really shoots it. He works very hard and he’s very prepared. His playing or not playing will never be determined on whether he makes a couple or misses a couple,” Jacobson said. “But more, just a feel we’ve got to have the most experienced guys (on the court late) and Bo had been in there the most and we let him play. And I thought he did a decent job.”
Living at the line
Northern Iowa attempted 16 less shots than Toledo and made eight less. The Panthers also saw the Rockets make three more 3s. But the home team lived at the line and converted 32 of 39 foul shots. It lead to a new McCleod Center record for made three throws in a game.
The previous record was 31, established Feb. 27, 2008 against Indiana State. The surplus in free throws led to a 20 point advantage from the line.
“We did a good job of getting it inside either with the pass or with the dribble and getting to the free throw line,” Jacobson said. “We had that lead at half, and that bonus and double bonus when you’re going down the first half, certainly in the second half, when you go to the line in a close game, it’s nice to know you’re going to be shooting two. That was an important aspect for us.”