N. Iowa-Indiana St. Preview
Its surprisingly decisive victory over the Missouri Valley Conference's most prominent team only reminded Northern Iowa how difficult it can be to win within the league.
Looking to win 10 in a row for the first time in five seasons, the 14th-ranked Panthers expect to be in for a difficult challenge Tuesday night against an Indiana State squad that's yet to lose at home in conference play.
In the first meeting of two ranked MVC teams in 33 years, Northern Iowa (20-2, 9-1) rolled to a 70-54 victory over then-No. 12 Wichita State on Saturday. Seth Tuttle scored a career-high 29 points as the Panthers shot 60.0 percent and held the visitors to 35.4 while ending the Shockers' 30-game league winning streak.
''It definitely gives us confidence,'' said guard Wes Washpun, who scored 16 off the bench. ''But we know how tough the Valley is.''
While Northern Iowa and Wichita State are tied atop the league standings, third-place Indiana State (11-11, 7-3) is two games back and 5-0 at home in conference play. Evansville, which is tied for fourth, has 16 victories and handed the Panthers their lone Valley defeat.
In position to win 10 straight for the first time since a 15-game run during its 30-win 2009-10 season, UNI understands the challenge that awaits as it tries to maintain the same level of intensity displayed over the weekend.
''Our energy level and our effort level was as high as it's been with this group,'' said coach Ben Jacobson, whose squad is allowing Valley lows of 50.6 points per game and 35.5 percent shooting in conference play.
"That means we played with tremendous passion and tremendous effort. We have to keep doing that."
UNI followed a four-game series skid with two straight wins over the Sycamores and snapped a three-game road series losing streak with a 71-69 win last season. Each of the last six meetings has been decided by no more than six points.
The Panthers had their hands full in a 66-60 win over Indiana State on Jan. 21. The Sycamores held UNI to 40.9 percent shooting and used an 11-0 run to take a one-point lead with 6:40 left.
''(Indiana State) plays really, really, really good defense,'' said Tuttle, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half. ''We knew it was going to be a struggle.''
The Valley's top shooter at 61.5 percent, Tuttle drew a key charge with 2:03 remaining against the Sycamores and converted a three-point play that gave UNI a 57-51 lead a minute later.
''That's what great players do - and he's a great player," said Indiana State coach Greg Lansing, whose team has held opponents to 39.4 percent shooting in the last four at home.
Tuttle has averaged 19.0 points in his past eight games and 9.2 rebounds in the last five.
Indiana State forward Justin Grant had 13 at Northern Iowa last month, and has averaged 11.6 points in the last 15 games after averaging 6.0 in the first seven.
The Sycamores have lost five in a row against Top 25 teams after winning their previous three.