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No. 18 Northern Iowa rallies then cruises past Southern Illinois



CARBONDALE, Ill. — Let the hype begin, Missouri Valley Conference-style.

Holding up its end of the bargain Wednesday night at SIU Arena, No. 18 Northern Iowa scored on nine straight possessions during a game-breaking 20-3 run to subdue Southern Illinois 59-52.

With their eighth straight win, the Panthers (19-2, 8-1) set up Saturday’s Valley showdown with No. 12 Wichita State in Cedar Falls. It will be the first matchup of ranked MVC teams since 1982.

The Shockers are 9-0 in the conference after a 58-47 victory over Loyola (Ill.) in Wichita.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for us,” Northern Iowa forward Seth Tuttle said of playing Wichita State. “The place has been sold out for a month. It’s hard not to get excited about it. It’s been hard not to think about it.”

Whether it was because they were looking ahead to the Shockers or because the Salukis (9-13, 2-7) were just better in the first half, the Panthers trailed 26-23 at intermission.

With backup center Ibby Djimde, who entered averaging 1.9 points per game, suddenly lighting it up for 10 points just over two minutes into the second half, Southern Illinois owned a 30-28 lead at the first media timeout.

But Northern Iowa went from upset alert to cruise control in about six minutes. It scored 13 straight points on 3-pointers or free throws, carving up the Salukis defense with good ball movement and creating a spate of clean looks.

“Shots went in for everybody,” said reserve forward Nate Buss, who canned a pair of 3s in the big run. “We got the ball inside and moved it around very well.”

By the time Tuttle converted a reverse layup with 9:12 remaining, the Panthers possessed a 50-35 lead. That was basically the ball game against a Southern Illinois team that managed just two field goals in a stretch that lasted more than 10 minutes of the second half.

Northern Iowa led by as many as 18 points before the Salukis ended the game on a 14-3 spurt that only served to make the final score more respectable.

“I thought for the most part, our guys did what we asked them to do defensively,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said. “We just couldn’t score. When you play Northern Iowa, you’ve got to hit jump shots and hit point-blank layups. We missed four point-blank layups in the second half.”

Guard Anthony Beane, who leads the Salukis in scoring at 16.5 points per game, managed just five on 2-for-9 shooting from the field. Southern Illinois’ starting frontcourt combined for only 12 points.

By contrast, Tuttle had 13, adding 10 rebounds for the 20th double-double of his career. Backup guard Paul Jesperson added 13 points, sinking three of the Panthers’ nine 3-pointers, and Buss finished with 11.

“Honestly, Jesperson and Buss beat us,” Hinson said. “They made four straight 3s in the second half and that really hurt us. We were going to make Tuttle beat us. He had a double-double but he only had four field goals.”

With this game in the books, Northern Iowa can now prepare for the game its fans have been wanting to play since the schedule was announced last summer.

“No matter who we were playing, it would have been easy to overlook this game,” Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said when asked about taking this one for granted. “I’m proud of the guys for what they did in this game. We’ll prepare the same way for (Wichita State) that we do for all of them.”

NOTES: Northern Iowa F Seth Tuttle was named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week on Monday. He averaged 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in wins over Indiana State and Illinois State. … The Panthers (349th) and Southern Illinois (327th) rank in the bottom 25 of time used per offensive possession as each chews up more than 20 seconds per trip. But Northern Iowa is 53rd in efficiency and the Salukis are 265th. … Southern Illinois F Jordan Caroline is the son of former NFL LB Simeon Rice. Caroline ranks third among MVC freshmen in scoring (9.2) and second in rebounding (6.1).

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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