Cedar Falls, IA (SportsNetwork.com) - The fourth-ranked Wichita State Shockers will attempt to keep their unblemished 2013-14 season alive on Saturday night when they venture to the McLeod Center for a Missouri Valley Conference bout with the Northern Iowa Panthers.
With its 65-58 victory at Indiana State on Wednesday night, Wichita State improved to 24-0 this season (11-0 MVC) as it remained one of just two undefeated teams left in the nation with top-ranked Syracuse. The 24-game winning streak is a program record for the Shockers and the second-longest in MVC history behind only a 33-game run by the Larry Bird-led 1978-79 Indiana State squad.
UNI, meanwhile, has been mired in mediocrity this season, hovering just below .500 both overall (11-12) and in league play (5-6). The Panthers have lost four of their last five games, including at Illinois State on Wednesday (76-65), but they have been outstanding on their home floor, winning eight of nine.
The Shockers dismissed the Panthers at home back on Jan. 5, 67-53, although UNI still leads the all-time series by a 25-23 count.
After falling behind early in the second half, the Shockers ripped off a 14-2 run to build an 11-point lead and managed to fend off the pesky Sycamores down the stretch to hold on for the seven-point victory. They had a rather modest field-goal shooting night (.426), but they made up for it by holding ISU to a mere 32.1 percent from the floor. Cleanthony Early shot 5-of-10 from the field and 9-of-11 at the free-throw line for a game-high 19 points. Tekele Cotton tallied 14 points and five assists and Chadrack Lufile posted eight points and 10 rebounds.
Wichita State has made a name for itself this season thanks mostly to its outstanding defense, which holds opposing teams to just 39.1 percent shooting while ranking 11th in the nation in yielding just 59.5 ppg. Its offense has been impressive as well, scoring 74.3 ppg on 44.4 percent shooting, while it also lives in the green in terms of its rebounding (+8.1) and turnover (+2.5) margins. Early leads the way with 16.3 ppg and 6.5 rpg, while shooting 46.3 percent from the floor. Ron Baker scores 12.7 ppg, Fred VanVleet stuffs the stat sheet with 11.9 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.0 rpg and 2.0 spg and Cotton puts up 9.6 ppg.
The Panthers held a three-point lead at intermission of their most recent contest but quickly lost control over the final 20 minutes, as their field-goal percentage plummeted from 59.1 percent in the first half to 34.6 percent in the second. They were also plagued by a game-high 16 turnovers, which resulted in 30 Illinois State points. Matt Bohannon was stellar with 19 points on 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Seth Tuttle logged a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Deon Mitchell and Jeremy Morgan poured in 13 and 10 points, respectively.
UNI usually sports an impressive offensive attack, shooting 45.3 percent from the field for 74.0 ppg, but it has nearly allowed its opponents to keep pace on the opposite end of the court (.442, 71.1 ppg). Five players score at least 9.0 ppg, led by Tuttle's 14.6 ppg on 49.8 percent field-goal shooting. Tuttle also rips down 8.0 rpg and swats away more than a block per game. Mitchell brings 13.3 ppg and 3.5 apg to the table. Nate Buss scores 10.8 ppg but is out 2-3 weeks with a knee injury. Bohannon (9.8 ppg) has drained 57 3-pointers at a 37 percent clip.
Wichita State proved earlier in the week and all season long that it can win on the road (8-0), so an away tilt against an inconsistent Panthers squad isn't likely to trip up the Shockers.