PEORIA, Ill. (AP) Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson liked what he saw early in his team's 63-53 win over Missouri Valley Conference foe Bradley Tuesday night.
But he wished he could forget the final five minutes of a game that saw the Panther's ninth-ranked defense nearly crumble under an unexpected onslaught from a Bradley team that trailed by more than 20 points just 12 minutes earlier.
''Our offense and defense were terrific in that first half,'' Jacobson said. ''But that last four or five minutes, well, I guess that would be on my shoulders. I needed to get them into something that was working against the increased pressure, and didn't get it done.''
Despite the late troubles, No. 23 Northern Iowa escaped with the win, thanks in part to 6-8 senior forward Seth Tuttle, who calmly sank four free throws in the final minutes to ice the win.
''Tuttle is just a great player,'' said Bradley coach Geno Ford. ''Everything they do goes through him. He controls the whole game out there.''
The Panthers (15-2, 4-1 MVC) dominated the Braves both offensively and defensively early, leading 29-9 at one point late in the first half. Nate Buss and Paul Jesperson chipped in 11 and 9 points respectively for Northern Iowa.
''I hope the guys remember how well they played in the first 20 or 30 minutes of the game, rather than the final five minutes,'' Panthers' coach Jacobson said. ''Because we can build on our performance early in the game.''
Auston Barnes led Bradley (6-12, 1-4 MVC) with 14 points. Warren Jones added 10, while Josh Cunningham grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
Northern Iowa's vaunted defense made its presence felt in the opening minute, forcing a turnover by Bradley's Mike Shaw that Deon Mitchell turned into two quick points in
Bradley's first possession of the game. The Panthers led at half 35-18.
Northern Iowa was 19-39 from the field (48.7 percent), while Bradley went 15-51 for 29.4 percent.
Bradley trailed by 23 points early in the second half, but battled back to within six, 56-50, with less than two minutes left in the game before Tuttle calmly sank four foul shots to seal the victory.
Northern Iowa: Leads the MVC in scoring defense (55.4 ppg) and in field goal percentage defense, holding opposing teams to 38.5 percent.
Bradley: Has lost 15 of its last 20 games against the Panthers since 2006-07, spanning the coaching tenure of Ben Jacobson.
With Tuesday's win, Northern Iowa's coach Jacobson moved into a tie for all-time MVC wins with former Bradley coach Joe Stowell, who coached the Braves from 1965-78. Jacobson is now 91-58 in MVC games.
Northern Iowa ran players in and out of the game in threes and fours all night, keeping fresh legs on the court at all times. Because of that, the Panthers' bench outscored Bradley 28-17.
Bradley visits Illinois State on Saturday.
Northern Iowa: hosts Missouri State on Sunday.