Loyola of Chicago-N. Iowa Preview
Northern Iowa is unbeaten at home, where it has never lost to Loyola of Chicago.
The surprising Ramblers may be in position to change that.
Loyola seeks its first eight-game win streak in 30 years Sunday when it tries to saddle the No. 23 Panthers with their fourth 0-2 Missouri Valley Conference start in five seasons.
Northern Iowa (11-2, 0-1) looks to regroup after blowing a 16-point lead in Thursday’s 52-49 defeat at Evansville. The Panthers had a season low in points and were outscored 32-19 after halftime.
"They stepped up their game in the second half and we were not able to handle it," said top scorer Seth Tuttle, who fouled out with a game-high 18 points. "We never really got a run going in the second half. That credit goes to them, I guess. We had a couple of opportunities, but we didn’t execute."
Northern Iowa has won nine straight at home with a 6-0 mark this season, and ended a three-game slide in home MVC openers with last season’s 80-46 rout of Bradley. The home defeats were part of 0-2 conference starts in those seasons.
Loyola (11-2, 1-0) has dropped all four visits to Cedar Falls by double digits, including an 80-58 defeat Feb. 12. There is reason to believe things could be different this season.
The Ramblers are seeking their first 12-2 start since 1965-66 and longest win streak since 1984-85. They are 3-1 on the road and 5-1 away from home after going 0-14 in true road games in 2013-14.
Loyola went 0-9 last season in conference road games in its first MVC campaign.
The Ramblers surpassed their 2013-14 victory total with Wednesday’s 64-49 win over Bradley. Christian Thomas scored 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
Thomas, who has made 14 of his last 18 shots, is second in the conference in field-goal percentage at 58.9.
The Ramblers lead the MVC in 3-point shooting at 40.4 percent and are shooting 48.1 percent overall, not far behind Northern Iowa’s mark of 48.3. Loyola’s Milton Doyle is one of the conference’s top perimeter shooters at 51.4 percent on 3s.
These teams rank among the conference’s best on defense. Northern Iowa is limiting foes to 57.6 points per game and 39.0 percent shooting to lead the MVC while Loyola is allowing an average of 58.9 points on 40.5 percent shooting.
The Panthers performed well defensively Thursday, limiting the Aces to 32.7 percent shooting. The problem was an offense that shot 31.6 percent in the second half after entering the break at 54.2.
"We did most of what we set out to do in that first half," coach Ben Jacobson said. "But I would like to have had a little bit better finish to that first half. But at the start of the second half it did not feel like we were getting great possessions offensively."
Northern Iowa’s rout at home last season avenged a 93-87 overtime loss at Loyola on Jan. 25 in which Doyle scored eight of his 28 points in the extra session.