Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Clock Was Ticking

The clock was down to its last few ticks today at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

A decision had to be made.

What would Northern Iowa – trailing Georgia Tech, 63-60, in a heart-stopping first round NCAA game – choose to do?

Go to Ben Jacobson, who had left his “A” game somewhere outside the arena, for the game-tying three-point field goal?

Or go to, say, senior David Gruber, who was pouring his guts out and again playing with a broken left wrist in what turned out to be the final game of his collegiate career?

Maybe Gruber, an undersized 6-6 center, could drill a two-pointer, get fouled, make the free throw and tie the game at 63-63 that way.

The decision, naturally, would be made by Coach Greg McDermott, architect of UNI’s dream season.

And, for McDermott, it was a no-brainer.

“We decided to go for the ‘three’ and tried to tie it,” McDermott said on his postgame radio show. “Had we had a timeout left, we probably would have taken a quick ‘two’ and then jumped into our press.

“We thought we had a play that would work, but then our timing was a little bit off and we didn’t get as clean a look as we wanted.”

McDermott said there was no question Jacobson, even though he had a terrible offensive day, would be the designated shooter.

“Even though Ben was struggling shooting the basketball, he was the guy we were going to go to,” McDermott explained. “He thrives on those situations and he had some shots go in and out today. But we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Ben Jacobson.”

Jacobson, a 6-3 sophomore guard, came into the game with a 14.1-point scoring average. But he made only two baskets in 14 attempts and scored nine points today.

On his final shot, he had to make an off-balance attempt. Some off-balance shots work for guys in pressure situations. Some don’t.

Jacobson’s didn’t.

So it was not to be for the Panthers, who lost, 65-60, and closed their season with a 21-10 record. As the 14th seed, they turned in a courageous performance against a Georgia Tech team from the Atlantic Coast Conference that is seeded No. 3 and now has a 24-9 record.

It didn’t take long for UNI to become the darling of the announced crowd of 18,866. The Panthers took an early 7-2 lead, later fell behind by 17 points, but outscored Georgia Tech, 15-2, at the start of the second half to take a 42-41 lead.

“It was a great effort by our guys of executing a plan,” McDermott said. “Our guys showed, collectively, what a team effort can do.”

McDermott said he told his players afterward, “If I have to lose, I’m glad it’s with you guys. It’s been an unbelievable ride, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“Coaching David Gruber and Matt Schneiderman has been an honor. They’ve certainly been the cornerstones of this program.”

Gruber and Schneiderman are both seniors. Gruber, who was averaging 11.9 points and 6.9 rebounds while battling centers who are much bigger, has been playing with a broken bone in his left wrist in recent weeks.

But nothing could keep him from playing in the final stages of the Missouri Valley Conference season and the postseason tournament, which UNI won in St. Louis.

Gruber led both teams in scoring today with 16 points while playing 36 of the game’s 40 minutes. He also had five rebounds. Schneiderman scored 15 points for a UNI team that shot only 38.9 percent to 45.5 percent for Georgia Tech.

All in all, it was a tremendous performance for the Panthers. They don’t settle for moral victories any more than any other team, but there was no reason for any of them to feel badly.

It’s obvious McDermott has something going in Cedar Falls. I hope he sticks around to coach UNI to many more NCAA tournament appearances.

Bush League TV Decision by UNI

Although McDermott’s UNI team turned in a class performance in the NCAA tournament, the same can’t be said for the school’s sports information office.

That was clearly demonstrated when UNI denied media credentials to Des Moines TV stations WHO and KCCI for the tournament in Milwaukee.

“It’s true,” said Keith Murphy, sports director at WHO-TV. “When UNI denied us media credentials, we made other plans immediately.

“I think UNI was taking an NCAA rule literally. It says you must cover 90 percent of a team’s home games. But as you know, there’s no way Des Moines stations can send a person to that many UNI games that are played two hours away when Iowa State, Iowa and Drake often play on the same nights at the same time.

“However, we cover all games with scores and highlights. Heck, we don’t send someone to 90 percent of Iowa’s games either because we can pull highlights off satellite. But we’ve never been denied credentials for the NCAA tourney or a football bowl game.”

Those familiar with the situation say it’s totally up to each university on which stations receive credentials.

So, in my estimation, this was a bush league decision by UNI.

It Looks Like NIT Is Saying Adios to ISU

Anybody else got the feeling that the NIT really doesn’t want Iowa State to win any more games?

Iowa State sold more than 12,000 tickets for Wednesday night’s victory over Georgia. So what did it get the Cyclones?

A trip to Tallahassee, Fla.

If the NIT were interested in the Cyclones, why would it have sent them there for a 6 p.m. game next Tuesday against Florida State?