NORMAL, Ill. (AP) Nate Buss probably wasn't the first Northern Iowa player that Illinois State expected to take the deciding shot.
But Buss was more than ready.
Buss hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 5.1 seconds left and No. 20 Northern Iowa edged Illinois State 54-53 on Sunday.
''This shot was in my head all game,'' Buss said.
A senior reserve, Buss hasn't started this season and was averaging six points a game. His high-arching shot gave UNI (18-2, 7-1 MVC) its seventh straight win.
''That's a great shot for us to get,'' Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said.
Jacobson elected not to use his final timeout after Illinois State's Daishon Knight missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12 seconds left and the Redbirds up by two.
''The players knew what we wanted,'' Jacobson said. ''I wasn't going to call a timeout unless we got stuck.''
Illinois State (12-8, 4-4) then used its last timeout and got the ball to Knight.
The senior guard's driving 5-footer hit the bottom of the rim as the horn sounded. He was knocked to the floor but sloughed off any notion of a foul.
Northern Iowa overcame a 12-point deficit in the final 11 minutes. Seth Tuttle scored 21 for the Panthers and Jeremy Morgan made three steals and blocked a shot down the stretch.
Jacobson, a staunch man-to-man coach, switched to a 1-2-2 zone and the Panthers rallied.
''That was the most zone we've played in a long time,'' Jacobson said.
The last of Paris Lee's 12 points gave Illinois State a 53-51 lead with 26.7 seconds left. Bobby Hunter scored 13 for the Redbirds (12-8, 4-4) and Reggie Lynch added 12.
After Northern Iowa scored seven of the first nine points in the second half, the Redbirds responded with a 20-3 run over six minutes to take a 46-34 lead.
The Panthers came back with an 11-0 burst. They held Illinois State scoreless for almost seven minutes, with Morgan thwarting four Redbirds possessions and assisting on two Northern Illinois baskets.
''We've got to get past it,'' Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. ''These games are hard. We were close, but close doesn't cut it.''
Northern Iowa: The Panthers host No. 14 Wichita State on Saturday. The Shockers have won 26 straight MVC games. The league leaders close the regular season Feb. 28 in Wichita. ... UNI is sixth in the nation in scoring defense at 54.8 points per game. MVC opponents average 49.6 points and shoot 35 percent. ... Tuttle is trying to become the first Panthers player to lead the team in rebounds and assists in 32 years. Tuttle (14.9 points per game) averages 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
Illinois State: Reserves Hunter and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell combined for 20 points. Akoon-Purcell added seven rebounds but shot just 1 of 8 and scored seven points.
Northern Iowa: At Southern Illinois on Wednesday.
Illinois State: Hosts Missouri State on Wednesday.