ST. LOUIS (AP) This time, Seth Tuttle did the grunt work and Nate Buss took care of the offense.
Buss scored a season-high 23 points and No. 11 Northern Iowa overwhelmed Bradley in the second half for a 71-46 rout in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals on Friday night.
”It’s a great feeling to be in an offensive rhythm like I was today, like I haven’t been all season,” Tuttle said.
The second-seeded Panthers (28-3) advanced on a quiet night offensively for Tuttle, the Valley player of the year. He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but was 3 for 9 shooting and made his first basket about 6 minutes into the second half.
”Tonight, he missed a couple easy ones he’s been making all year,” coach Ben Jacobson said. ”That would have gotten him when he was a freshman or sophomore.”
Deon Mitchell added 14 points, five assists and two steals for the Panthers, who led 34-32 early in the second half before taking control with an 11-0 run. Northern Iowa has won 17 of 18, bouncing back smartly from a 14-point loss at Wichita State for the conference title, and faces either Indiana State or Loyola on Sunday in the semifinals.
”That was as well as they’ve played for a 10-minute stretch,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. ”They do that, they’re not going to get beat.
”We may be seeing them play for several weekends in a row.”
Reserve Omari Grier had 16 points and freshman Josh Cunningham added 14 points and six rebounds for Bradley (8-24), the 10th seed. Grier didn’t play in an overtime victory over Drake Thursday night.
The Braves shot just 33 percent and lost seven of eight to end the season, including a 56-39 blowout at Northern Iowa on Feb. 21.
Buss, who averages 6.6 points, fell just short of his career best of 26 points, which came against Missouri State on Jan. 18, 2014. He was scoreless in 12 minutes in a 74-60 loss at No. 8 Wichita State for the Valley title in the regular-season finale on Feb. 28.
Northern Iowa entered the game fifth in the nation in points allowed per game at 54.6. The Panthers scored 44 points in the second half.
Tuttle had four points, including his first basket on a drive with 13:47 to go, in an 11-0 run that put Northern Iowa in control at 45-32. Bradley went nearly five minutes between points during the drought.
”We just picked up our intensity, we picked up our toughness,” Buss said. ”I think they were kind of outworking us in the first half, but we came out with a great mind-set.”
Northern Iowa led comfortably most of the first half, up by as many as 13. Bradley surprised with a 10-0 run in the final 2:15, eight points coming from Grier, to cut the gap to 27-25.
”The coaches are always telling us to be ready,” Grier said. ”I felt like being a scorer I had to take it upon myself to be aggressive in order for us to win.”
Bradley: After a 1 for 8 start on 3-pointers, the Braves hit their last three from long range to end the half. They slumped throughout the second half, going 2 for 8.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers ended a four-year victory drought in the tournament. They had been the lone team in the Valley to come up empty in that span. ”We don’t talk about last year or the year before or the number of years it’s been since we won a game on Friday. Because we don’t talk about it or I don’t; talk about it doesn’t mean the guys don’t understand it or don’t feel it,” Jacobson said. … Buss’ season high had been 15 points. … Mitchell was 2 for 2 from 3-point range. He shot 57 percent in conference games.
Bradley: Four of five starters return next season. F Auston Barnes, who had eight rebounds and seven points, is the lone senior.
Northern Iowa: Faces either Indiana State or Loyola on Sunday in the semifinals. The Panthers swept both in the regular season.