How does one explain perfection?
Northern Iowa forward Seth Tuttle gave it a try after his big first half set the tone in the Panthers’ 68-57 Missouri Valley Conference win Sunday over the Missouri State Bears at JQH Arena in Springfield, Mo.
“We talk about how every game, it’s important that we get off to a good start in the first four minutes of each half,” Tuttle said. “Fortunately, I was able to get us going with a couple of 3-pointers.”
Tuttle’s two 3s in the game’s first four minutes sparked an 11-0 run that gave No. 13 Northern Iowa (24-2, 13-1 MVC) early control against the downtrodden Bears (9-17, 3-11), a team headed 180 degrees away from the Panthers.
While Northern Iowa won its 13th straight conference game since losing on Jan. 1 at Evansville, Missouri State dropped its 11th game in the last 12 contests. It trailed by double figures for the final 34:44.
Tuttle never let the Bears up for air, canning all seven shots in the first half as he scored in almost every way possible. Whether he was facing the bucket or converting off post-ups, Tuttle simply couldn’t be stopped.
“So much of what we’re doing is what Seth’s doing,” Panthers coach Ben Jacobson said. “He’s playing a really high level of basketball.”
Tuttle finished with a game-high 22 points, four rebounds and three assists. Guard Deon Mitchell added 11 points and seven assists, while guard Jeremy Morgan also pitched in 11 points.
Northern Iowa surgically carved up its undermanned opponent, sinking 16 of 28 field goals in the first half. Fourteen of its buckets came off an assist. It drew 19 assists for the game, with four players dishing out multiple helpers.
“The way the ball was moving, the way that guys were moving … we’re shooting mostly open shots,” Jacobson said. “You’ve got guys being unselfish, knowing what they’re looking for. They just go to the next option until we find a good one.”
The Panthers led by 20 points just over 12 minutes into the game and stretched their advantage to 42-20 at the half when Mitchell found an open Tuttle for a layup with 2:35 on the clock.
Northern Iowa expanded its lead to 26 points early in a second half which was little more than a race to the final horn. Missouri State made the final margin look respectable with a game-ending 16-4 run.
Forward Camyn Boone paced the Bears, who dressed only nine players due to injuries and defections, with 14 points. Guard Austin Ruder added 13.
“I’ve been stressing to all the guys that it’s really important that we can’t ever overlook anybody,” Tuttle said. “We understand how difficult it is to win a game.”
Climbing back into a first place tie with Wichita State in the conference, the Panthers continued to state their case for a top four seed in next month’s NCAA Championship.
“Thirteen in a row in the league is so hard,” Jacobson said of the current win streak. “When you go that far, you’re mixing in a bunch of road games. Your defense has to be really good, and that’s why we’ve gone on a couple of long runs this year.”
NOTES: Northern Iowa entered the day as one of four teams in Division I ranked in the top 25 in field goal percentage (48.7, 14th) and field goal percentage defense (38.2, 21st). … Missouri State G Dorrian Williams (concussion) returned after missing the last two games. … Panthers senior F Seth Tuttle was named to the Naismith Trophy Men’s Midseason 30 on Thursday. Tuttle leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocked shots.
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