Ramblers welcome 11th-ranked Panthers to town

Feb 18, 2015 - 3:34 PM Chicago, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - One of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference takes center stage on Wednesday night, as the 11th-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers hit the road to tangle with the Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago at the Gentile Center.

Northern Iowa is enjoying its finest season, as the team is 24-2 overall and 13-1 in conference. The Panthers are battling No. 13 Wichita State for MVC supremacy, and they are seeking their 14th consecutive victory tonight. UNI is 8-2 in true road games, marking its only setbacks of the season, and they came in double-overtime at VCU on Dec. 13 (93-87), and in the league opener at Evansville on New Year's Day (52-49). The team's most recent triumph occurred at Missouri State on Sunday, 68-57, giving it wins in each of its last six bouts on enemy hardwood.

Loyola got off to a sensational start to the 2014-15 campaign, going 11-2 before getting into the meat of its Missouri Valley Conference slate. Since reeling off seven straight victories from Dec.6-Dec. 31, the Ramblers have gone just 5-8. They have however, won two in a row and three of their last four, with the most recent being a 58-53 triumph at Bradley on Sunday. However, Loyola has lost three of its last four at home.

These two teams met in Cedar Falls back on Jan. 4, and it was the hometown Panthers who prevailed in a 67-58 final. Jeremy Morgan led all scorers with 18 points for Northern Iowa, which forced 19 turnovers and logged an 18-7 edge in points at the free-throw line. Loyola saw three players reach double figures in defeat, led by Milton Doyle with 13 points.

As result, Northern Iowa's lead in the all-time series now stands at 7-2.

Seth Tuttle was his usual productive self in Northern Iowa's recent win over Missouri State, as he went 10-of-12 from the field in tallying 22 points. Morgan and Deon Mitchell pitched in 11 points apiece for the Panthers, who drained 50 percent of their field goal attempts, which included a 12-of-26 effort from 3-point range. UNI held the Bears to 43.5 percent shooting, and used a dominating opening half in which it outscored the home team, 42-20, to stake its claim to win No. 24 on the season.

Tuttle has been Northern Iowa's top performer this season, as he averages 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, 18.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game against conference foes, and he does his best to get his teammates involved in the action as well by handing out 3.2 apg. Wes Washpun is next on the scoring list, but he turns in only 8.5 ppg. The Panthers are netting 65.8 ppg thanks to the efforts of Tuttle, and the fact that they knock down 40.3 percent of their 3-point tries, 48.7 percent of their total shots, and 72.5 percent of their tries at the charity stripe. Defensively, UNI stands strong in yielding a mere 54.9 ppg (fourth-best in the country), with foes connecting on only 38.4 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a 30.9 percent performance out on the perimeter.

Trailing 7-2 to start Sunday's game at Bradley, it looked as if the Ramblers would have a tough time keeping up with the Braves, but a run that would see the visitors take a double-digit lead at the half helped propel the team to its second straight win. Christian Thomas paced Loyola with 13 points, while Ben Richardson pitched in with 11, despite going just 4-of-10 from the field. The Ramblers converted only a third of their 15 3-point tries, but shot 44.9 percent from the floor overall. Conversely, the Braves knocked down only 4- of-19 long-range launches, and made good on only 37 percent of their total shots.

Loyola isn't what anyone would consider an offensive powerhouse, as it averages just 62 ppg, but the team does alright for itself at the other end by permitting a mere 60.1 ppg, which ranks as the third-lowest yield in the MVC. Doyle and Thomas are the only two players currently averaging double digits in the scoring column, but their 11.5 and 10.9 ppg, respectively, aren't causing many sleepless nights for their opponents. The Ramblers are the third-best shooting team in the league, knocking down 46.5 percent of their total shots and 39.5 percent of their 3-point attempts. They also do well in defending the long-range shot (.315), ranking second in the MVC in that department.

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