Bears face uphill climb in bout with 13th-ranked Panthers

Feb 15, 2015 - 3:37 PM Springfield, MO ( - A pair of teams residing at opposite ends of the Missouri Valley Conference standings get together on Sunday afternoon, as the Missouri State Bears play host to the 13th-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers.

At 23-2 overall and 13-1 in conference, Northern Iowa is locked in dead heat with Wichita State for MVC supremacy. The Panthers are riding a 12-game win streak, with their latest triumph coming in an 83-64 verdict at home over Illinois State last Wednesday. UNI is 7-2 in true road game this season, having won its last five games on enemy hardwood.

With a record of 9-16, which included a 3-10 league ledger, Missouri State is in dogfight just to stay out of the Missouri Valley basement. Currently duking it out with Bradley (3-10) and Southern Illinois (3-11), the Bears will need to turn things around quickly as they seek an end to a three-game losing streak, and try to win for only the second time in the last 12 games overall. A 73-66 setback at Evansville was the team's most recent disappointment, and only six of its 11 home games have resulted in victory.

Missouri State leads the all-time series with Northern Iowa, 40-28, but the Panthers have been victorious in the last five encounters, and in seven of the last eight overall. UNI, which has won five of the last six times it has made the trek to Springfield, was a 60-46 winner in the first game played between the two this season, as Seth Tuttle led the hometown Panthers with 22 points and 10 rebounds.

For the fifth straight time and 16th this season, Tuttle was high man for the Panthers in their recent win over Illinois State, as he tallied 23 points by going 9-of-12 from the field. Deon Mitchell was the only other UNI player to reach double figures in the easy win, as he hit for 12 points thanks to his perfect 4-of-4 showing from 3-point range. Collectively, the Panthers drained 12 treys as part of their 54.7 percent overall shooting effort, and they performed well at the defensive end too in yielding only 40.7 percent shooting success to the Redbirds.

Tuttle is far and away the most productive player on the Northern Iowa roster, as he averages 16 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and he does his best to get his teammates involved in the action as well by handing out a club-best 3.2 apg. Wes Washpun is the next-best scorer, but he turns in only 8.8 ppg as one of the team's top reserves. The Panthers are putting up 65.8 ppg due in large part to the effort of Tuttle, and the fact that they knock down 40 percent of their long-range launches, 48.7 percent of their total shots, and 72.4 percent of their free throws. Defensively, UNI is on point in permitting a mere 54.8 ppg, with foes connecting on only 38.2 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes just a 30.7 percent showing from beyond the arc.

The Bears stood toe to toe with Evansville the last time out, shooting 48 percent from the floor compared to 47.1 percent for the Purple Aces. Both team struggled from distance, with Missouri State hitting just 3-of-11 3-point attempts and its opponent only 4-of-15. The real difference in the game was the fact that the Bears were guilty of 15 turnovers, and the Aces only three. Camyn Boone paced the losing side with 21 points, while Chris Kendrix added 13 and Gavin Thurman a near double-double as he finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Missouri State claimed a massive 36-21 rebounding advantage, but was outscored at the foul line, 21-15.

Marcus Marshall had been the star of this Missouri State team during the first half of the season, but his departure last month has left the Bears scrambling to try and find someone to replace the 19.5 ppg he was netting at the time. No current player averages in double digits, as Boone is closest with his 8.4 ppg. Also the team's top rebounder with 5.1 rpg, Boone is a near-60 percent shooter who has the ability to raise his level of play and carry the team, but for the Bears to be successful, additional help will need to come. Missouri State's strength is at the defensive end of the court, as foes are allowed just 63.6 ppg.

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