No. 24 N. Iowa 59, Wichita St. 56
Northern Iowa insisted its win over Wichita State on Wednesday
night was just another game, one the surging Panthers will quickly
put behind them.
The rest of the Missouri Valley knows better.
Kwadzo Ahelegbe scored 18 points, 15 in the second half, and No.
24 Northern Iowa hung on to beat the Shockers 59-56 and take a
commanding three-game lead atop the Missouri Valley Conference
Jordan Eglseder added 15 points for the Panthers (20-2, 11-1),
who avenged a 60-51 loss in Wichita on Jan. 19 and put the
second-place Shockers in a hole that might be too deep to climb out
“I don’t talk about that with our guys. I really don’t,”
Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “We talked about being
tougher than we were at their place on the defensive end of the
floor, being tougher on the offensive end of the floor, finishing
It might have been a good thing that Jacobson didn’t bring up
all the benefits of a victory, because it almost didn’t happen.
Wichita State (19-5, 8-4) buried consecutive 3-pointers to pull
within 58-56 with 1:54 left, then got the ball back with 31 seconds
left. But Toure’ Murry missed a 3 from the elbow, and Clevin
Hannah’s desperation heave bounced off the rim.
Murry had 17 points to lead Wichita State, which came in ranked
ninth in the nation in free-throw percentage but shot just 10 of 17
from the line.
“We had our chances. We just couldn’t make the plays at the
end, those shots at the end,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall
It was a typical Valley slugfest, with baskets and style points
in short supply. But that’s exactly the kind of play the pesky
Panthers excel at.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Ahelegbe shook off a terrible
first half and carried the Panthers offense down the stretch.
Ahelegbe drilled a pull-up 15-footer and muscled a tough layup
in traffic to put Northern Iowa ahead 44-41 with 8:34 left.
Eglseder’s three-point play off a steal by Ali Farokhmanesh gave
the Panthers a 47-41 lead. Wichita State quickly cut it to one, but
Ahelegbe followed a 3 with yet another mid-range jumper to give
Northern Iowa a 53-46 lead with just under 4 minutes left.
Ahelegbe was 1 of 9 from the field in the first half but
finished 8 of 18, helping rescue an offense that shot just 38
percent from the field. But Jacobson also pointed to the
contributions of reserve forward Lucas O’Rear, who finished with
nine rebounds – five offensive – and helped set the tone in the
“I thought (O’Rear) was probably the difference,” Jacobson
said. “He’s a worker. He finds a way to come up with loose balls,
come up with rebounds.”
Gabe Blair added 12 points for the Shockers, who fell to 5-4 on
The Panthers missed 12 of their first 15 shots and fell behind
by as much as 18-10. But after a hot start, Wichita State could
only muster four points during a 9 1/2-minute stretch late in the
first half, allowing Northern Iowa to jump ahead 25-22.
Murry and Hannah responded with 3s in the final 1:18 to give the
Shockers a 28-27 halftime lead – despite the fact that Northern
Iowa outrebounded them 10-0 on the offensive glass.
The loss at Wichita State is the only hiccup in the Valley so
far for the Panthers, who now seem poised to run away with the
Northern Iowa hasn’t been flashy – in fact, it needed a late
rally to steal a 55-54 win at Missouri State last weekend – but its
suffocating defense was once again enough to help the Panthers
Northern Iowa entered play second in the nation in scoring
defense at 55.1 points per game.
“We just talk about being more aggressive in everything we
do,” Jacobson said. “I just thought we were a much more
aggressive team (Wednesday) than we were at Wichita.”
Though Wichita State has rattled off one of the better starts in
school history, it still lacks a signature road win. Its biggest
wins to date, against Northern Iowa and Texas Tech, both came at
The Shockers do have a chance to finish strong, though. They
play four of their final six conference games at home and have two
games left against last-place Evansville.
“We’re going to try and win games and do what we can do,’
Marshall said. “Obviously we need a lot of help at this