Published November 24, 2012
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – There's no way a team can leave a tournament with three losses and act like it accomplished something.
Northern Iowa may have lost all its games at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but two were against ranked teams and both went down to the wire.
The Panthers played half of the four ranked teams in the field, the second a 52-47 loss to No. 19 Memphis on Saturday in the seventh-place game.
"I was really excited when we got the call to come here. I looked it over and we told them we wanted in," Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said. "Even knowing the field, I think that's why I was so excited. That kind of challenge. When you take on a challenge of this magnitude, this early in the year, there is a chance what happened, could happen. But this isn't something we're going to shy away from."
The Panthers (3-3) lost 51-46 to No. 2 Louisville in the opener and 66-50 to Stanford in the consolation semifinals.
Northern Iowa, best known for its upset of No. 1 Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament, showed again numbers in front of team names don't faze them.
"In the three games we have played down here, I thought our first 20 minutes were very sharp," Jacobsen said. "We moved the ball well and found guys in the right places. We rebounded better (against Memphis) than in the first two games. The hard part is we didn't have enough to show for it."
The Panthers aren't leaving the Bahamas empty-handed.
"I think there are a lot of things we'll take form it (this tournament), most importantly are the stretches we played against Louisville in the second half," Jacobsen said. "The guys did a number of very good things we can build on."
Deon Mitchell led the Panthers against Memphis with 18 points and five assists, but Northern Iowa shot 31.4 percent (16 of 51), including going 7 of 27 (25.9 percent) from 3-point range.
"I feel like the first few games we weren't flowing with our usual motion," Mitchell said. "This game we slowed it down. We needed a win and wanted it real bad so we just slowed it down and went through our sets."
Northern Iowa was fan favorite with its hustle, including diving for quite a few loose balls.
"I feel like that is how we should come out like that every game," Mitchell said. "It is not just desperation. If it's a loose ball we're going to go after it. That's how we need to come to the court every time, not just desperation."
Memphis, on the hand was facing a must-win game before December even started.
The Tigers arrived in the Bahamas as one of four ranked teams playing in the eight-team field.
Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson, two of Memphis' better players who had been struggling, scored 18 and 15 points, respectively, against Northern Iowa.
"If we were 0-3 nobody would want to be around me," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "Rocks would have been thrown and maybe it would hit the players. We'd have to look out for snipers after we got off the plane. What's important is we won. We needed some momentum."
Memphis (3-2) was the only ranked team not to reach the semifinals and things didn't look so great late in the first half against the Panthers, who led 26-12 with 4:34 to play.
"We just didn't get some rhythm (in the tournament overall)," Pastner said. "It's a long season. There are going to be some peaks and valleys. This is a good team we played. They'll beat a lot of teams going forward. It's not easy getting back-to-back losses come into a morning game then get down 14 in the first half and come out with a win. I'm really proud of my guys. That's why we play these tournaments. That win is going to help down the line in March."
Jackson, considered one of the better point guards in the country, entered the game with 12 assists and 11 turnovers and was averaging 8.8 points for the season. Pastner only played him 7 minutes in the 78-65 loss to VCU — none in the second half.
Crawford came in averaging 7.3 points and was shooting 31 percent overall and 21 percent on 3s. He was 6 for 10 on Saturday and made 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
Crawford, who had 12 rebounds, hit a 3-pointer to start a 10-0 run that closed the first half and Jackson ended the spurt with another 3 to make it 26-22.
The Tigers never really took control in the second half but they grabbed the lead for good with 4:04 left when Crawford scored on a layup to make it 42-41. Jackson's three-point play after a bad turnover by Northern Iowa's Deon Mitchell made it 48-41 with 36 seconds left. Crawford hit two free throws with 13 seconds to go to make it 52-44.