CEDAR FALLS – Prior to the game, Anthony James stood at center court to accept a basketball to commemorate his 1,000th career point. Two hours later he still demanded center stage attention, only it didn’t end with a smile, like it started.
With less than five seconds remaining the 4,155 in attendance in the McLeod Center Wednesday night focused on him, James rose up from the left wing in front of his bench attempting to force overtime, but his shot rimmed out. He’d made six in a row, but the streak ended there as did any hope the Panthers could win consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 5. Evansville beat Northern Iowa 62-59.
“I shot the ball with confidence like I always do,” James said. “I had a good look at the basket it just didn’t go down this time.”
James became the star of the second half, after Evansville’s Colt Ryan stole the show in the first.
With Ryan booted off stage, for now, James muscled his way on – literally. The UNI senior started the game making just two of 11 shots. He went one for eight in the first, misfiring on four of five from deep.
With 6:45 left in the game, James wouldn’t miss from the field again until his game-tying attempt. Instead of settling for jumpers, the shooting guard from St. Louis made six straight shots in the paint. With 53.8 left he gave UNI its first lead since 12:12 of the first half.
James finished scoring 13 of his team’ s final 17 points, including the final 10. The last Panther to hit from the field not wearing No. 52 was Matt Bohannon's 3 with 9:58 left.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Evansville head coach Marty Simmons said of James. “He has been for four years. He’s very aggressive offensive player. You got to find him in transition, he can beat you off the dribble, he obviously wants the ball when the game is on the line.”
After James’ floater gave the Panthers a two point cushion, the magic wore off. Jake Koch missed the front end of a one-and-one. After an Aces’ three-point play gave them a one-point lead, James repeated Koch’s experience at the line.
“The last 10 minutes went the way it needed to, able to get the lead, get a stop, get to the free throw line, you can’t ask for anything more than that,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said.
James needed to construct a late comeback after Ryan put on a similar show in the first half. The Aces’ senior scored 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc in the game's opening act. The Aces’ shooting guard scored seven of his team’s first 12.
Ryan brought the same precision to start the second half. He buried his third 3 of the game with 18:38 remaining in the game to put his team up 12. Two minutes later Evansville held its largest lead of the game at 14.
But the Panthers took the spotlight off the Aces' star with Marc Sonnen. The senior held Ryan to one field goal the rest of the game.
“We tried to limit his touches in the first half, he got loose a few times,” Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said. “When he does, he’s usually going to make it. Second half, I thought Marc did a heck of a job.”
Still the Panthers heard from Ryan one final time. With 18 seconds remaining the senior went to the line to shoot the double bonus. His first shot grazed the front rim, but used the back iron to guide it through the net. His second gave the Panthers hope with a second bounce off the back iron, but it eventually fell through.
The clutch shots pushed Evansville’s lead back to three and left Ryan the game’s protagonist.
“They were really making it hard for us to get anything. He made a big shot there,” Simmons said. “Both of those free throws kind of crawled in, but he’s an experienced guy. He’s played in this league; played a lot of games and there isn’t anybody else we’d rather have up there.”
EVANSVILLE 62; UNI 59
Game Ball: Evansville's Colt Ryan, had nine points in the second half, but made two FTs late to cushion the lead.
Lame Ball: UNI's Jake Koch, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 late with his team up two, on the next possession the Aces converted an and-1 to take the lead.
Light The Cigar - When It Was Over: When Anthony James missed a 3 at the buzzer, sealing a Evansville win.
Watercooler Stat: Every shot (6 of 7) that left James’ hands in the final five minutes went in, except the final 3-point attempt and a front end of a 1-and-1 with 22.3 left. He started the game 2 of 11.
Big Number: 25 – the number of 3-pointers UNI attempted, four more than it averages per game. The Panthers totaled 15 in the first half alone.