Denver, CO (SportsNetwork.com) - The 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa Panthers will try to remain unbeaten on the season when they head to Magness Arena on Wednesday night for a non-conference clash with the Denver Pioneers.
UNI has surged into the Top-25 for the first time since 2006 by winning each of its first eight contests, most notably downing Virginia Tech (73-54) and Northwestern (61-42) en route to the Cancun Challenge title last month. The Panthers survived a 71-65 decision at home to George Mason on Saturday and are attempting to move to 9-0 for just the third time in school history.
Denver has gotten off to a rocky start to the season, having alternated wins with losses since claiming its opener over Idaho State (54-38). The Pioneers were on the winning side of things their last time out with a 64-48 road victory at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to improve to 4-3.
UNI has a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series with Denver, with the Pioneers winning a 2013 BracketBusters contest, 63-57.
The Panthers held a seemingly comfortable 12-point lead over GMU with less than six minutes to play in regulation their last time out but saw that advantage dissipate down the stretch, with GMU tying the game with just two seconds remaining. The Panthers took control in the extra session, however, and made 6-of-6 at the foul line over the final 26 seconds to seal the win. The team shot just 37.7 percent from the field but had four players in double figures, led by Seth Tuttle with 16 points. Paul Jesperson (12 points), Bennett Koch (11), Nate Buss (10) and Wes Washpun (six assists, nine rebounds) all played extended minutes off the bench.
The key to UNI's success this season has been its outstanding defense, which gives up just 55.2 ppg on 38.1 percent field goal shooting. Its offensive production has been more than enough in support with 46.1 percent shooting and 67.8 ppg. Tuttle (16.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) shoots just shy of 65 percent from the field. Washpun (10.5 ppg, 3.4 apg) is the only other player in double figures but seven others score at least 4.3 ppg.
The Pioneers never trailed in their latest game, as they opened up a 31-23 lead at halftime and cruised from there to a 16-point road victory. They outshot TAMU-CC from the field on the afternoon, 55.6 percent to 34.9 percent, which went a long way in masking a poor effort at the foul line (6-of-16). Cam Griffin led all scorers with 16 points. Nate Engesser netted 13 points, while Brett Olson added 11 points and five assists.
On the season, Denver shoots an impressive 46.6 percent from the field, which includes 8.1 3-pointers per game at a 36.8 percent clip, but its slow pace only allows for 62.6 ppg. Luckily its scoring defense (60.6 ppg) has been top notch. Griffin is the catalyst with team highs in both scoring (13.4 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg) while shooting 54.4 percent from the field. Olson (11.0 ppg) hands out 4.6 apg, while Engesser (10.2 ppg) has been on fire from 3- point range at 51.9 percent.