Northern Iowa (20-13) at Drexel (28-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, March 18, 11:00 a.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Daskalakis Athletic Center (2,300) -- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPN. NIT Record: Northern Iowa 1-0, Drexel 1-5. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The seventh-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers have made the trek to Philadelphia for the second round of the 2012 National Invitation Tournament against the third-seeded Drexel Dragons.
This bout marks the first time these squads have ever faced off on the hardwood, although they each have a win against the other's conference this year, with Northern Iowa downing Old Dominion and Drexel taking care of Bradley.
Northern Iowa has been one of the more successful squads in the Missouri Valley Conference in recent years, including a stunning run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2010, which included an upset victory over top-seeded Kansas. The Panthers were not strong enough to warrant an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament this season, but still had a good year and with a win over Saint Joseph's in the first round of the NIT have won at least 20 games for the fourth straight season.
Drexel won 19 straight games before falling to Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament final. The Dragons then waited all day on Selection Sunday but never heard their name called and were left out of the 68-team field in the NCAA Tournament. The Dragons may have had a chip on their shoulder in the first round of this event, as they crushed sixth-seed UCF, 81-56, to advance.
Seth Tuttle knocked down two free throws with 1.3 seconds remaining to give him a career-high 23 points and lift Northern Iowa to a 67-65 win over Saint Joseph's in the first round on Wednesday. After shooting just 8-of-33 in the first half, the Panthers needed their defense to carry them and that's just what happened as the Hawks shot just 37.0 percent in the first half before the Panthers woke up and hit 16 of their final 31 shots.
Northern Iowa was right around it's season scoring average (65.2 ppg) in the first round. What has kept the Panthers in games this year is it's defense (61.8 papg), despite being the second-worst rebounding team in the MVC (31.7 rpg). Tuttle (9.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) has had a strong freshman campaign but began to slow down the stretch, failing to score in double figures in four straight games, including a two-point effort in a loss to Illinois State in the MVC Tournament. Tuttle's effort in the first round of this event (23 points, 11 rebounds) got back on the right track. Anthony James (12.6 ppg) was the team's leading scorer this season, and the only Panther averaging in double figures, although he managed only four points in the first round. Marc Sonnen (8.7 ppg) and Deon Mitchell (7.1 ppg) stepped up by scoring 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Drexel shot an impressive 50.9 percent from the floor, which included an 11- of-24 showing from three-point range while holding UCF to 38.2 percent field goal efficiency, and just 4-of-15 from beyond the arc to cruise to an easy first-round win. Nine different players scored for the Dragons, with six scoring at least eight points, and four finishing in double figures.
All season long Drexel has been a team that amps up the defensive pressure. The Dragons were eighth in the nation in scoring defense (55.4 ppg), while also posting impressive numbers in field goal percentage defense (.385) and opponents assists per game (8.5). The team's offense hasn't been as stellar (65.1 ppg), but hasn't really needed to be. Sophomore guard Frantz Massenat (13.7 ppg, 4.5 apg) wound up leading the team in scoring and he kept that going by netting 18 points in the opening round, while also time and time again, finding his teammates for open looks by dishing out a career-high 14 assists. Damion Lee (12.5 ppg) is the guy Massenat finds most often, although Samme Givens (11.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg) is also a capable scorer as well as a strong defender in the paint. Givens got into foul trouble early in the first round and scored only two points, while Lee had just eight points. The rest of the team however, stepped up, especially Chris Fouch(10.8 ppg), who knocked down five three pointers and finished with a game-high 19 points.
This game will not be a pretty one, as both teams play at a slow, grinding pace that doesn't include a whole lot of scoring. Drexel has excelled in those types of games all season, and should be able to yet again.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Drexel 64, Northern Iowa 59
03/18 10:47:12 ET