CHICAGO (AP) — Northern Iowa keeps on winning, and it’s not hard to see why. Just look at the defense.
Seth Tuttle and Nate Buss each scored 10 points, and the No. 11 Panthers won their 14th straight, clamping down on Loyola in a 58-39 victory Wednesday night.
“We want to play defense,” said Buss, a senior. “We understand that’s what’s going to win us games. We know we always have to be focused on that end and we always are going to be focused on that end.”
The Panthers (25-2, 14-1 Missouri Valley Conference) never trailed and moved within one win of matching the 2009-10 team’s school record streak.
They also tied a season low for points allowed while holding Loyola (16-11, 6-9) to its lowest scoring total, and this game was every bit as lopsided as the numbers indicated.
Northern Iowa led by 12 at halftime and broke it open after the Ramblers trimmed it to nine early in the second period.
Tuttle, the Panthers’ leading scorer, took just seven shots and committed five turnovers. But he also finished with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Buss got off to a strong start, scoring 10 in the first half to help Northern Iowa build a 30-18 lead.
Matt Bohannon scored all eight of his points in the second half, and the Panthers earned their seventh straight road win.
Northern Iowa hit nine 3-pointers, including two each by Buss, Bohannon and Paul Jesperson, after burying a season-high 12 in each of the previous two games. The Panthers also outrebounded the Ramblers 32-21.
Loyola shot 39 percent, but had trouble finding good looks and getting to the rim. The Ramblers attempted just two free throws and were led in scoring by Devon Turk, Ben Richardson and Christian Thomas, who finished with just six points apiece. That’s how tough it was for a team that had won back-to-back games to clinch its first winning season since 2010-11.
For all the strides the Ramblers are making, there still is a big gap between them and conference powers Wichita State and Northern Iowa.
“There’s such a winning mentality when you play those two teams,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said. “The other team makes a run, you always just see them not panic. You see the physical competitiveness. They’re well coached. Both teams have a lot of veterans.
“I sense, too, when I play both of those teams they’re just at a different level than everybody else.”
Buss’ strong start helped Northern Iowa build a 30-18 halftime lead. The Panthers, who beat Loyola last month to start this win streak, then broke it open after the Ramblers pulled within nine.
Bohannon wrapped two 3-pointers around a layup by Earl Peterson, sparking a 13-4 run that boosted the lead from 32-23 to 45-27. It also essentially ended the suspense — not that there was much.
“Guys are determined,” coach Ben Jacobson said. “They’ve been really good about getting better. That’s really the key — how much better can you get as the season goes on? This team is really good at that. They have the ability to let everything sit off to the side and just kind of focus on each other. They’re having fun together.”
With the lead at 10 late in the first half, Northern Iowa’s Wes Washpun converted a neat layup in the closing minute, pumping in midair, to make it a 12-point game.
HE SAID IT
Moser on Northern Iowa’s defense: “It’s going to the dentist trying to score against him.”
Northern Iowa: The Panthers improved to 8-2 against the Ramblers and stopped a two-game losing streak at Gentile Arena. Northern Iowa fell in overtime last year at Loyola.
Northwestern: Loyola’s last win over a Top 25 team was at No. 15 Butler on Feb. 15, 2009. The Ramblers have not beaten a ranked team at home since they took out No. 9 Illinois on Dec. 27, 1986.
Northern Iowa hosts Bradley on Saturday.
Loyola visits Illinois State on Saturday.