Cedar Rapids, IA (SportsNetwork.com) - With their time in the national rankings about to end, the 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers hope to put another tally in the win column when they entertain the Ramblers of Loyola- Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
Loyola enters the fray sporting an 11-2 record, and it won its Missouri Valley Conference opener at home against Bradley on New Years' Eve, 64-49. As a result, the Ramblers have won seven straight games and they are seeking their fourth triumph in this, their fifth true road game of the season. They are 2-0 in neutral-site affairs, showing a confidence level away from home rivaled by few teams.
Northern Iowa opened the season at 9-0, but a double-overtime loss at VCU on Dec. 13 brought the team back to reality. The Panthers responded by taking down Big Ten foe Iowa (56-44), and South Dakota State (74-63), but then played its league lid-lifter at Evansville on New Year's Day and stumbled in a 52-49 final. The Panthers are 6-0 at home this season and have won nine consecutive home games dating back to the 2013-14 campaign.
Northern Iowa leads the series with Loyola, 6-2, and the teams split a pair of meetings last season with each winning at home.
Loyola used a solid first-half performance to put itself up by double digits in the recent clash with Bradley, and cruised from there en route to the 15- point victory. Christian Thomas led all scorers with 20 points, and Devon Turk was right there with 19 to pace the Ramblers, who shot 46.7 percent from the floor, knocking down 8-of-17 3-point tries along the way. Conversely, the Braves were just 40.4 percent efficient from the field, while missing the mark on 16 of their 19 long-range launches. A 14-4 edge in points at the foul line also helped Loyola's cause.
Despite their impressive record, the Ramblers aren't what anyone would consider an offensive juggernaut, the team averaging just 67.4 ppg. They do shoot the ball well (.481 overall, .404 3-PT), but they are virtually even in terms of both rebounding (-0.6) and turnover (+0.3) margin. Where the team has really excelled is at the defensive end, as foes are netting only 58.9 ppg in hitting just 40.5 percent of their total shots, which includes a 28.7 percent showing from beyond the arc. Thomas (13.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Milton Doyle (12.7 ppg, 4.2 apg) have been the team's top performers.
Northern Iowa held a 16-point lead in the first half of its recent bout with Evansville, but faltered after the break in falling to the Purple Aces in a low-scoring affair. The Panthers' Seth Tuttle led all scorers with 18 points before fouling out, and Wes Washpun added 11 points off the bench for a team that shot 54.2 percent from the field in the opening half, but just 31.6 percent in the second. The Panthers missed 13 of their 18 3-point attempts in the game, committed 12 turnovers, and suffered significant deficits in both rebounding (36-27) and points from the foul line (19-6). The Aces won the game despite hitting only one of their 11 3-point attempts, and shooting 32.7 percent from the floor overall.
Tuttle (14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Washpun (11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg) are the only two double-digit scorers for Northern Iowa this season, with no other player netting more than 6.7 ppg. The team as a whole is putting up 67.2 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .483 overall and .374 from 3-point land. The Panthers shine at the defensive end of the court by allowing only 57.6 ppg, with foes converting a mere 39 percent of their total shots, which includes a 30.1 percent showing out on the perimeter.