ST. LOUIS — Northern Iowa battled back from a 10-point hole to start Saturday’s semifinal matchup with Wichita State and trailed 29-23 at halftime. Still, the Panthers needed an extra boost to complete a second-half comeback and upset the top-seeded Shockers.
Enter sophomore Klint Carlson, a 6-foot-7 forward who is developing a knack for putting hairs in Wichita State’s soup.
Carlson recorded five points and six rebounds in the second half as the fourth-seeded Panthers forced overtime at Scottrade Center. He then opened overtime with a smooth drive and layup as Northern Iowa outlasted Wichita State for a 57-52 victory.
Carlson finished with nine points and a career-high nine boards, just shy of his first double-double.
“We can play him at the power forward and go a little bit bigger or move him to the center position and then open up our offense,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “But today he really showed up at the other end against a team that’s got guys that go and get rebounds.”
This was not the first time Carlson has excelled against Wichita State. Three weeks ago, Carlson scored a game-high 12 points as the Panthers ended the Shockers’ 43-game home winning streak.
Carlson spent all of Saturday’s game giving up one inch to senior Anton Grady and 35 pounds to sophomore Shaquille Morris. Yet he picked his spots on offense and banged with Wichita State’s larger forwards to limit their production.
Jacobson said part of Northern Iowa’s game plan was to give Grady mid-range jumpers, and Grady made the Panthers pay with 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting. But Grady played only 22 minutes as he faced foul trouble and was disqualified early in overtime.
Morris finished with six points on on 3-of-3 shooting but grabbed only three rebounds.
“It feels good to be able to come out and compete with some of the best,” Carlson said.
Despite a strong start to the second half by Northern Iowa, the Panthers still had ground to make up late in the second half.
When MVC Player of the Year Fred VanVleet swished a 3-pointer with 8:03 remaining to give Wichita State a 41-36 lead, the Shockers crowd created deafening noise. The No. 1 seed appeared ready to make a butchering run, as it has done to pesky opponents several times this season.
Carlson quieted the sea of gold and black with a jumper in the lane.
The building was about to explode again as Shockers guard Ron Baker, a 35.8 percent 3-point shooter whose outside shooting carried Wichita State in Friday’s quarterfinals, let loose on a triple. It didn’t go in.
Then Panthers guard Matt Bohannon, a 41.4 percent 3-point shooter, missed on a good look beyond the arc.
Then Shockers guard Conner Frankamp, who shot 35.1 percent from deep in Valley games this season, misfired on a trey.
Leave it to Carlson, a 26.8 percent 3-point shooter, to bank in a 3-pointer from the wing and make a statement that Northern Iowa would not go away. At this point in the season, who cares if the shot hits glass?
“I let that go, and I said, ‘Oh, shoot. That’s real long,'” Carlson said after the game. “I was just hoping it would just go long enough that it would go in. Fortunately that shot did go in.”
Carlson did not score again until overtime, but he grabbed five defensive rebounds in the final 5:17 as Wichita State, the MVC’s best offensive rebounding team, got only two second chances.
“I missed a couple of blockouts in the first half,” Carlson said. “That’s what we were talking about the whole game. Coach Jake really put it on us to get all those rebounds. So in my mind I just wanted to go get every single loose ball.”
Guards Jeremy Morgan and Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa’s two best players all season, combined for the Panthers’ final eight points. Morgan’s 3-pointer with 1:18 remaining gave Northern Iowa a 55-52 lead. Washpun’s layup with 18 seconds left was the dagger.
But when Wichita State forward Markis McDuffie’s shot bounced off the rim with six seconds left, Carlson was there to grab the final loose ball and seal Northern Iowa’s victory.