CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – No. 13 Creighton discovered a lesson nearly as old as college hoops itself. When you're playing a league game on the road against a team hitting its shots, you're probably in trouble.
Antoine Young and the Bluejays did nearly everything they could to stave off the upset, but Anthony James buried a 3 as time expired as Northern Iowa upset the Bluejays 65-62 on Saturday, snapping their 11-game winning streak.
James scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and Seth Tuttle added 13 points for the Panthers (16-9, 6-7 MVC), who handed visiting Creighton (21-3, 11-2) its first loss since late-December.
"He makes them from a lot of places," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said about James. "He got himself to a spot where he was closer to the basket and just felt more comfortable. That was a big play."
The first big play of a thrilling finale came from Young, who saw his teammates heavily guarded and pulled up from the top of the key to tie it at 62. James dribbled the length of the court, stepped back from the wing and kept his shooting hand in the air after the game-winner, which sent Panthers fans streaming onto their home court.
Young scored 23 points and Doug McDermott, who originally committed to Northern Iowa, had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Creighton. The Bluejays shot 42 percent from the floor and got just 10 points from their bench.
"You hope when you're not perfect that you find a way to gut one out, and we almost found a way to get this one into overtime," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
James' stunning winner was a fitting capper to this back-and-forth contest between these heated Valley rivals. Northern Iowa opened up a 51-45 lead with 5:21 left. The Panthers reeled off an 11-2 run capped by a layup by Deon Mitchell and a 3 from Chip Rank, and McDermott picked up his fourth foul on a charge near the basket.
Young stopped the UNI surge with a three-point play, pulling the Bluejays within a possession with 3:55 left, but Jake Koch's 3 with 1:11 left gave the Panthers a 58-54 lead.
James buried a huge 3 from the corner with 23 seconds left to put Northern Iowa ahead 61-56. Creighton's Jahenns Manigat made it 61-59 on a 3 with 15 seconds left but James, who shot 6 of 14 from the floor, hit the one that mattered at the end. The Bluejays outrebounded Northern Iowa 44-30 and only allowed three second-chance points. But they also let the Panthers hit 11 of 21 tries from 3-point range.
Northern Iowa's Johnny Moran buried a 3 and Rank scooped through heavy traffic, putting the Panthers ahead 39-34 with 14:40 left. They could've gone ahead by seven, which would have been the biggest lead yet for either team, but Young smartly stripped Matt Morrison at the rim. Ethan Wragge's rushed 3 and bank shot at the end of two sloppy possessions brought Creighton back even at 40-all.
McDermott then tipped a loose ball to himself over four Panthers in the paint, converting a three-point play to give the Bluejays a 43-40 lead with 11:02 left. Creighton finished just 5 of 16 from 3-point range, and nobody but Young and McDermott scored more than eight points.
"We just needed some offense from somewhere else. Antoine and Doug were good," Greg McDermott said. "It was just one of those nights. You play (24) games and they're not all going to be perfect."
Northern Iowa rolled into Valley play with a realistic shot at yet another NCAA tournament berth after wins over Old Dominion, Providence, Iowa and Iowa State in nonconference play. But the Panthers had lost four of their last six, uncharacteristically struggled to knock down shots.
But they nearly beat Creighton in Omaha on Jan. 10, losing 63-60, and this time they finished Creighton off.
"They played us great twice," Greg McDermott said. "They controlled the tempo better than anybody has on us all year. We won a close one and they won a close one."