CEDAR FALLS - Adam Koch crammed a career performance into Saturday's final 3 minutes, 11 seconds.
With that much time remaining in a dogfight with the Southern Illinois Salukis, Koch, a 6-foot-8 Northern Iowa senior, sank two free throws, slicing into the visitors' five-point lead.
With 1:18 to go, Koch corralled a steal near mid-court. ... With 22.5 seconds left, Koch pulled down a key defensive rebound, and was fouled. Two more free-throw makes followed. ... With 6.4 seconds remaining, the senior sprawled out on the floor to secure a game-clinching rebound.
With zero seconds left, Koch was lavished with love - and a host of hi-fives -after UNI's wild, 55-52 triumph. When the dust settled, Koch had scored 11 points in barely three late-game minutes.
Jack Bauer would've been jealous of Koch's time-management on this day.
"Part of it's the atmosphere here in the arena - it's contagious," explained Koch, after producing a game-high 21 points for No. 24 UNI, which improved to 21-2 overall and 12-1 in the MVC in front of 6,838 partisan fans.
The senior forward sank 6 of 6 free-throw attempts in Saturday's final 3:11. On the year, Koch has made 28 of 31 total free throws (90.3 percent) in the final five minutes of games.
They call that being clutch.
"Koch, he was the factor," said SIU coach Chris Lowery. "He made every play, made every free throw, and drew every foul down the stretch.
"Koch, when he hit the final three, at the top of the key, that hurt the most," Lowery added of Koch's key shot with 2:27 to go.
"Obviously, he was terrific down the stretch," UNI coach Ben Jacobson said of Koch. "Tonight, he carried us home."
UNI, ranked 15th in the Ratings Percentage Index, scored a comeback against 135th-ranked Southern Illinois, thanks in large part to solid rebounding and 76.2 percent free-throw shooting as a team.
But transfer Tony Freeman, playing his first game in Cedar Falls since Dec. 5, 2007 - when his 15 points helped engineer a seven-point Iowa Hawkeye win - had a prolific performance Saturday for Southern Illinois, and nearly sparked an upset. The senior guard poured in a team-high 17 points and buried four 3-pointers.
"My performance doesn't matter. We lost," said Freeman, whose Salukis led by seven with barely six minutes remaining.
"It's not over till the buzzer sounds," he added. "Every play is crucial down the stretch."
On a day in which UNI's student section sponsored a "Gold-Out," Koch's late-game heroics were priceless in the eyes of Panther fans.
"We were in a tough spot, down seven," Koch acknowledged. "But we did a good job of getting stops."
The two teams did more traveling than Anthony Bourdain early on. The Panthers and Salukis also combined to hit just 3 of 17 first-half 3-point attempts.
Fortunately for the hosts, a late, 10-1 UNI scoring run helped leave the score knotted at 18-all at the intermission.
But each of Southern Illinois' last seven games have been decided by six points or less, and the Salukis (13-10, 5-8 MVC) were ready for a 40-minute battle. By the time Freeman buried a 3 from the left wing at the 15:38 mark, SIU had seized a 25-23 lead.
From there, the lead vollied back and forth seven times in the next six minutes.
A breakaway dunk from Salukis guard Justin Bocut put the visitors up, 42-35, with 6:09 to go.
However, foul trouble began to mount for Lowery's club, and, as a result, the Panthers inched their way back into it.
Koch caught fire in the final three minutes, of course, and his finger-roll with 1:43 to go tied the score at 49-all and handed the hosts momentum they never relinquished.
UNI is now 7-0 in games decided by six points or less.
"We do a pretty good job of staying level-headed," said Koch. But "we're really happy to get out of here with a win today."
The MVC has announced UNI's Feb. 27 regular-season finale at home versus Illinois State will tip-off at 7:05 p.m. The game will be televised nationally, on ESPN2.
After making 5 of 15 3-point attempts Saturday, the Panthers have now shot 27.3 percent from beyond the arc over their last nine contests.
UNI has already clinched the seventh 20-win season in school annals. The school record for wins in a season is 23, which was accomplished four times -- including last year.