No. 11 Northern Iowa rolls past Bradley 56-39

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) Northern Iowa is peaking defensively.

If the 11th-ranked Panthers can keep shutting down opponents the way they have in their last two games, there’s no telling how far they can go in the postseason.

Nate Buss and Wes Washpun each scored 11 points off the bench and Northern Iowa rolled past Bradley 56-39 on Saturday, matching a school record with its 15th straight win.

Seth Tuttle added nine points and eight rebounds for the Panthers (26-2, 15-1 MVC). They took their seventh straight by double digits while also holding their second straight opponent to just 39 points.

”We’re helping each other,” Tuttle said. ”We’re covering up for each other. Basically, our defense right now is playing like one unit. Everyone is just flying all over the place.”

Northern Iowa led by just four at halftime. But its defense allowed just seven points in the opening 12:37 of the second half, helping turn a tight game into yet another blowout in favor of the surging Panthers.

Josh Cunningham and Nate Wells each had six points for Bradley (8-21, 3-13). The Braves are the fourth team that Northern Iowa has held to 40 points or less during Valley play.

”Offensively, we were just anemic,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said.

Bradley entered play on a three-game losing streak and as a 17-point underdog.

But the Braves gave the Panthers all they could handle for about 20 minutes.

Bradley deliberately drained the shot clock whenever it could in an effort to keep the ball away from Northern Iowa. The Braves also used their size to neutralize Tuttle, and they went into halftime down just 27-23.

But the Panthers were simply too much for Bradley on both ends of the floor.

Northern Iowa started pressing on defense to start the second half, throwing Bradley out of rhythm. It pushed its lead to 38-28 on a Washpun 3, and Paul Jesperson’s contested 3 gave the Panthers a 44-30 lead with just over 10 minutes left.

Matt Bohannon, who on the previous possession landed behind the Braves bench after a scramble for the ball, drilled a 3 that made Northern Iowa’s lead 19 with 7:54 left.

”We just wanted to find something to get us going a little bit,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said about his team’s pressure defense, a strategy the Panthers rarely deploy. ”I felt like we needed to to get a little momentum.”

Bradley hit just six field goals in the final 20 minutes and went 3 of 19 from 3-point range.

TIP-INS

Northern Iowa: The last time the Panthers won 15 straight games was in 2009-10, which is also the last time they reach the NCAA tournament…Tuttle ended Northern Iowa’s pre-game shoot around by drilling a half-court shot off the backboard.

Bradley: The Braves are now 1-13 in road or neutral court games this season…the Braves have also lost 12 of their last 14 games.

STAT LINES

Bradley didn’t have a single player hit more than three shots from the floor, and as a team the Braves shot just four free throws…Northern Iowa forced 13 turnovers and got 26 points from its bench.

QUOTABLE

Tuttle entered play leading the Panthers with 16 points a game, so the Braves built their defense around slowing him down. Tuttle took only four shots, but he hit them all. ”They just tried to take me out of the game, and for the most part they did a really good job of it,” Tuttle said.

WHAT’S NEXT

Northern Iowa hosts Evansville in its home finale on Wednesday.

Bradley plays at Missouri State on Wednesday.

Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP