CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Adam Koch stepped up when Northern Iowa (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) needed him the most.
Koch scored 11 consecutive points for the Panthers down the stretch, helping them rally for a 55-52 victory over Southern Illinois on Saturday.Northern Iowa (21-2, 12-1 Missouri Valley) improved to 11-0 at home this season with its seventh straight win over the Salukis in Cedar Falls. Koch had 16 of his 21 points in the second half."We were in a tough spot there," said Koch, a 6-foot-8 senior. "That's one of those spots where we really need to make a lot of plays."Koch took care of most of them."He was terrific down the stretch," Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said. "He's come through for our team a number of times. Today, obviously, it really stood out, because it was consecutive baskets down the stretch. His play was really good."Tony Freeman scored 17 points and Justin Bocot finished with 10 for Southern Illinois (13-10, 5-8), which went 8 for 17 from the free-throw line.The Panthers trailed 47-42 before Koch took over. He hit two free throws, a 3-pointer and scored inside to tie it at 49. He added four straight free throws in the final minute, and Ali Farokhmanesh also had two foul shots in the final seconds for Northern Iowa."He played like an older guy," Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery said of Koch. "They went to him exclusively down the stretch. He made every play, every free throw, every tough play, drew every foul, and that's what you want from your older guys."Kwadzo Ahelegbe scored 10 points for the Panthers, all in the second half.Freeman made consecutive 3-pointers to give Southern Illinois a 25-23 lead early in the second half, but Farokhmanesh got the lead back for Northern Iowa with a 3. At that point, Freeman had outscored his teammates 14-11.Freeman also made a tiebreaking 3-pointer during an 8-0 run that gave the Salukis a 42-35 lead with 6:09 left. Bocot, who had five points during the surge, capped it off with a steal and dunk but was whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim.Farokhmanesh went 1 for 2 on the resulting free throws and Johnny Moran hit a 3-pointer to get the Panthers right back in the game."I think we do a good job of staying levelheaded and not getting too upset or too high," Koch said. "Tonight we just hunkered down and executed when we needed to."The game was tied at 18 after an ugly first half. Southern Illinois shot 35 percent and committed 12 turnovers before intermission, while Northern Iowa shot 33.3 percent and had nine turnovers.It was the lowest-scoring half of the season for the Salukis and the second-lowest for the Panthers.