Friday's game between No. 5 seed Northern Iowa and No. 12 seed Wyoming in the East Regional was billed as a showdown between two star forwards, Missouri Valley player of the year Seth Tuttle for the Panthers and Larry Nance Jr., son of former NBA player Larry Sr., for the Cowboys. But it was Northern Iowa's bench players who made the biggest difference in the Panthers' 71-54 win that advanced Northern Iowa to the Round of 32 for the first time in five years.
Paul Jesperson had a game-high 16 points as one of three reserves to score in double-figures for the Panthers, who had five players overall finish with at least 10 points. Tuttle had 14 points and was outscored by Nance whose 16-point effort included a stellar second-half stretch in which he scored 13 consecutive points for Wyoming.
Nance was nonexistent in the opening frame, scoring just one point and being held without a field goal as the Panthers took a 35-24 lead into halftime. Northern Iowa then seemed to put the game away by starting the second half on an 11-1 run to stretch its advantage to 21 points. The next 10 minutes was the Nance Jr. show, though.
By the time his personal run ended on a three-pointer with 12:27 remaining, the Cowboys were within 13. Riley Grabau and Charles Hankerson Jr. followed with triples of their own, capping an 18-4 run that sliced Wyoming's deficit to seven.
That was as close as the Cowboys would get, however. Paul Jesperson, who came off the bench to score a team-high 16 points, answered Hankerson's three with one of his own, restoring a double-digit lead for Northern Iowa, which was never seriously threatened again.
The Panthers' bench outscored Wyoming’s 41-2, with Nate Buss and Wes Washpun combining for 23 points as well. Tuttle made just 4-for-12 from the field but did have nine rebounds. Guard Deon Mitchell also added 10 points.
Northern Iowa will play the winner of No. 4 Louisville and No. 13 UC-Irvine in the Round of 32.