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MSU's Anthony Downing (0) is guarded by Northern Iowa's Anthony James (52) in Missouri Valley Conference basketball action Tuesday night at JQH Arena in Springfield
The MSU Bears pulled within three points of the lead late, but came up just short, falling to Northern Iowa 69-63 Tuesday night at JQH Arena in Springfield.
After trailing 30-27 at the half, the Bears fell behind by 11 points just under four minutes into the second half when Jake Koch hit two free throws to put UNI ahead 40-29.
When Keith Pickens hit a shot and was fouled with 9:44 left in regulation, he had an opportunity to cut the lead to three with a free throw. He connected, and Missouri State trailed 46-43.
But 18 seconds later, Matt Bohannon drained his third three pointer of the night for UNI to put the Panthers back up by six, 49-43.
The Bears would not give in, though, pulling within four points. 59-55, when Christian Kirk calmly sank two free throws with 2:24 left. The Bears as a team connected on 16 of 17 attempts from the foul line.
MSU kept it close right down to the final minute, pulling within three, 64-61 on Kirk's layup with 33 seconds to go.
Northern Iowa hit some big free throws down the stretch, including two by Anthony James with 31 seconds remaining, one by Seth Tuttle with 19 seconds left, and two more by Tuttle with 17 seconds to play to seal the win for the Panthers.
UNI also had a great night from the free throw line, hitting 19 of 23 attempts.
Freshman Marcus Marshall had a career high 25 points for Missouri State in a losing effort, while Kirk put in 12 points.
Tuttle led three players for Northern Iowa in double figures with 19 points and also pulled down 12 rebounds for a double-double. James had 17 points, with Bohannon putting in 11.
"We got beat by a really good team," Bears Coach Paul Lusk said in his postgame press conference. "I thought we fought. In the end, we didn't have enough. We have to get contributions from every single person we put on the floor, everybody that we have. I thought we battled and fought, but it just wasn't enough against a very experienced team."
Lusk says Northern Iowa, who's won its last five games, including victories over Wichita State and Creighton, is a team that can make you pay. "They'll take a lot of three's, but they also have the big horses inside in Tuttle and in Koch that they can expose you. Then if you can't guard, if you can not defend, it's like you've got a big billboard on your head that says 'just come pick on me.' They're going to pick on you. They're going to expose you in certain areas."
Lusk says Marshall, a 6'3 freshman guard from St. Paul, Minnesota, had an outstanding performance. "The thing that's impressive about a young kid is you're going to go through struggles and how do you respond to that?. Marcus Marshall had one of his toughest games of the year the other night at Southern Illinois and man did he respond tonight against a terrific team, against a terrific defensive team. He carried us for a long time."
Marshall made all nine of his attempts from the foul line and set the tone for his teammates. "I got to the line alot, also we were 16 of 17, so we shot pretty well as a team. Northern Iowa, they really pack in the lane. It was good that we got to the line."
Senior Anthony Downing, who was held to nine points despite leading the team with six assists, says the Panthers showed a different look on defense against him. "They were actually kind of double teaming me everytime I came off the ball screens. I would always have to pass it back for the indirect guy to throw it into Christian and try to get the layup, but it wasn't there that much. This was different. That was the first time I've seen that."
With the loss, the Bears drop to 8-20 overall on the season, 6-10 in Missouri Valley Conference play. Northern Iowa improves to 17-11, 10-6.
The Bears travel to Eastern Michigan for a game Saturday in the Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters. Tipoff is 11:00am.
Missouri State has lost 20 games in a season for just the third time in school history. The 1980-81 squad coached by Bob Cleeland finished with a mark of 9-21, while Cuonzo Martin's Bears were 11-20 in the 2008-09 season.
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