Purple Aces hope to play spoiler in clash with Panthers

Feb 25, 2015 - 3:36 PM Cedar Falls, IA (SportsNetwork.com) - Owners of the fourth-longest winning streak in the nation, the 10th-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers put their 15-game run on the line Wednesday as they host the Evansville Purple Aces.

Settling in at the McLeod Center this week, the Panthers have won 17 in a row at home and because of being perfect in Cedar Falls this season, the team is still fighting for Missouri Valley Conference supremacy with 11th-ranked Wichita State, whom it will face this Saturday.

The most recent victory for the Panthers was a 56-39 pounding of Bradley last weekend, marking the second straight opponent held below 40 points by UNI.

The good news for the Purple Aces is that they are the only MVC opponent to take down Northern Iowa this season, only one of two teams in the entire nation able to make that claim in fact. However, like every other team (aside from Wichita State) in the MVC, Evansville is still looking up at the Panthers in the standings.

The Aces, who will close out the regular season against Illinois State on Saturday at home, saw a three-game win streak come to an end on Sunday with a lopsided 62-43 loss to the Shockers on the road. As a result, Evansville is now 9-7 in conference.

As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Purple Aces own a slight 24-21 edge, although inside the McLeod Center the Panthers have taken six of eight meetings.

The Purple Aces were held to a grand total of only four field goals, on 22 attempts, in the first half against Wichita State in the most recent outing, which left the visitors trying to play catch-up the rest of the way. Unfortunately, Evansville made good on only 31.34 percent from the field, a mere 1-of-12 behind the 3-point line, and had almost as many turnovers (13) as baskets (15). Egidiju Mockevicius was the only player in double figures for the Aces with 15 points, to go along with a team-best 11 rebounds.

Despite scoring only eight points on 2-of-10 shooting from the floor, D.J. Balentine is still the leading scorer for the Purple Aces in conference play, posting 16.4 ppg. Then again, when you play close to 37 minutes per game and are averaging about 15 field goal attempts per outing, it only makes sense that the numbers are in your favor. Mockevicius is on the verge of averaging a double-double versus the rest of the MVC with his 10.9 ppg and 9.9 rpg, the latter being more than twice the effort put forth by anyone else on the roster.

After holding the Loyola Ramblers to just 39 points three days earlier, the Panthers repeated the feat versus the Braves at home, limiting the visitors to just 3-of-19 shooting behind the 3-point line and 34.8 percent from the field overall. With the game well in hand, it wasn't necessary to run down the starting five, which is why none of them scored in double figures. Instead, it was Wes Washpun and Nate Buss who came off the bench to both tally 11 points, while Seth Tuttle accounted for nine points and eight rebounds.

Tuttle leads the offense with his 17.1 ppg in conference play, shooting not just 44.4 percent behind the 3-point line, but a sizzling 63.8 percent from the field through those 16 starts. Tuttle is one of those rare performers who can do everything well and is more than willing to lend a hand in any and all areas in order to ensure success, which is why he also paces UNI on the glass (6.8 rpg) and in assists (51) versus the rest of the MVC.

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