MVC semifinals pits Panthers against Ramblers

Mar 7, 2015 - 4:10 PM St. Louis, MO ( - The second Missouri Valley Conference semifinal matchup Saturday will pit the sixth-seeded Loyola-Chicago Ramblers against the 11th-ranked and second-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers at Scottrade Center.

The winner of the clash will advance to the championship bout to take on the winner of the earlier semifinal matchup featuring fourth-seeded Illinois State and top-seeded Wichita State.

Loyola-Chicago heads into the semifinal matchup against Northern Iowa on a three-game win streak that dates back to the regular season. The Ramblers easily took down third-seeded Indiana State on Friday, 81-53, to advance through. It was the first time this season Loyola defeated the Sycamores.

Northern Iowa rebounded from a season-finale loss to Wichita State with a convincing 71-46 victory over Bradley Friday in the quarterfinal round of the MVC Tournament. The 11th-ranked Panthers lost just twice in conference play all season, finishing the year at 16-2.

Loyola is hoping it can duplicate the same feat on Saturday it did Friday by beating Indiana State. The Ramblers lost twice during the regular season to the Panthers.

Loyola-Chicago played exceptionally well on both ends of the floor Friday in the 28-point win over Indiana State. The Ramblers buried an impressive 57.4 percent of its field goal attempts in the contest, with a hefty 10-of-16 mark from 3-point distance, and limited the Sycamores to 31.4 percent from the floor. Christian Thomas tallied 16 points with six rebounds to pace his squad in the victory, while Ben Richardson chipped in with 15 points, and Montel James and Donte Ingram each contributed 12 points. The Ramblers outscored Indiana State in the paint, 32-12, in the contest.

Thomas led the Ramblers in scoring during the regular season with 11.5 ppg, while Milton Doyle followed that total up with 11.2 ppg. Loyola could be an exceptionally dangerous team headed into the semifinal round if Doyle, who has been nursing a sprained ankle since mid January, were healthy. Loyola prides itself on a strong defensive effort, holding opponents during the regular season to 60.5 ppg on 43.9 percent shooting. In the team's one-sided 58-39 loss to Northern Iowa back on Feb. 18, three players led the offensive effort with a meager six points for the Ramblers, who shot 39 percent from the floor in the loss.

Northern Iowa only took a two-point lead over Bradley, which beat Drake in overtime Thursday night to advance out of the first round, at halftime, 27-25. But the Panthers caught fire in the second half of Friday's match, netting 57.7 percent of their field goal tries with a 5-of-8 mark from 3-point range to bury the Braves, who made just 21.7 percent shooting thanks to a stifling UNI defensive effort. Nate Buss scored 23 points with six rebounds to lead Northern Iowa, while Deon Mitchell chipped in 14 and five assists, Jeremy Morgan added 11 and Seth Tuttle, the MVC Player of the Year, tallied a double- double in the win with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Tuttle was the heart and soul of the Panthers squad during the regular season, finishing the year as the only UNI player netting a double-digit scoring total at 15.6 ppg. He also led the squad in rebounding (6.6 rpg) and in assists (99), all while connecting on 63 percent of his shots from the floor. His Panthers scored 65.1 ppg in 30 regular season games, and gave up a mere 54.6 ppg to opponents to lead the conference in scoring defense. In the Panthers' 19-point road win over Loyola-Chicago, Tuttle led the way with 10 points and seven rebounds with five assists, while Nate Buss tallied 10 points with six boards and Wes Washpun chipped in five assists to help complete the regular- season sweep.

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