CEDAR FALLS – Nate Buss describes himself as a stone faced basketball player. Saturday night, Northern Iowa witnessed a different Nate Buss.
With UNI trailing by two, Buss received a dump off pass from Anthony James – who drew two defenders – and threw down a thunderous dunk. As the 6-9 sophomore returned to the ground, he let out a uncharacteristic scream accompanied by a fist pump.
“With that dunk he really gave us a little more energy,” freshman guard Matt Bohannon said. “I thought from there we stepped it up a little better defensively.”
The dunk ignited a 15-5 run to allow Northern Iowa to pull away from Wisconsin-Milwaukee and capture a 72-61 win. While the UNI offense began to click, the defense held Milwaukee to 2 of 8 shooting during the run and forced two turnovers.
To accompany his out-of-character persona, Buss also finished with a career night. He finished 8 of 9 shooting for 17 points – both career highs. His two assists, also rank as the most in his career at UNI. It all came in 20 minutes of play, four shy of another high-water mark.
“It feels great to just finally be able to help the team,” Buss said. “Sitting on the bench, you’ve got to be there for your team, from a morale stand point, but being able to be on the floor and being able to help us score points and being able to help us get that win is the greatest feeling.”
Buss’ 17 points led Northern Iowa and contributed to the team’s decisive 25-7 edge in bench scoring. He made his first eight shots from the field, including a 3-pointer.
“Yeah, you look up (at the scoreboard) at some point, but no I didn’t really realize it,” Buss said. “I was just having fun out there, in my opinion. I was having fun.”
No play was more fun than his dunk. After UNI lost its halftime lead, it tied the game at 43. Prior to it, the game saw six ties and 11 lead changes. Following the slam, Northern Iowa held the lead for the rest of the game. It also sprang a two-headed run by James and Buss of 11 straight points.
Statistically, it might have been a Buss, the 4,121 in attendance in the McCleod Center hadn’t seen before, but head coach Ben Jacobson sure recognized him.
“He’s done that a couple of games in a row now,” Jacobson said. “He’s really done a nice job. His versatility helps our teas and it doesn’t take him any time to get going. He could come in the game, without running up and down the floor once, and shoot a 3 and make a 3.”
Buss’ spark off the bench, came on a night where starting point guard Deon Mitchell sat out with a left foot injury. His status is day to day. James took the reins at point, while Bohannon got his fourth start of the season.
The Linn-Mar grad nailed two 3s in the game, one of which extended UNI’s lead back to nine late in the game. Bohannon and James joined Buss in double figures with Seth Tuttle. Jake Koch scored nine, while Marc Sonnen finished the well rounded effort with seven.
“This was as good as an overall game as we’ve played,” Jacobson said.
It came after three straight losses in the Bahamas in the Battle for Atlantis tournament. After pulling within one of No. 2 Louisville, UNI lost handily to Stanford, then blew a lead to No. 19 Memphis.
The trip to paradise, turned into anything but, and it’s emotion UNI played with against Milwaukee.
“I think everyone was pretty pissed off,” Koch said. “We go down there and of course they’re good teams but we had our opportunities. And of course with this game we played better but there are still things to learn.”