Northern Iowa is complementing its already elite defense with improved offense, bringing the Panthers closer to the longest winning streak in school history.
No. 11 Northern Iowa aims for a 14th straight victory Wednesday night when it visits Loyola of Chicago.
The Panthers (24-2, 13-1 Missouri Valley) limit teams to 54.9 points per game on 38.4 percent shooting, but may be even more impressive on the other end of the floor lately. Over the last five games, they’ve averaged 70.2 points on 53.2 percent shooting – the nation’s third-best shooting mark since Jan. 31. They averaged 64.8 points and 47.7 shooting previously.
Northern Iowa’s 13 consecutive victories are its most since a school-record 15-game run in 2009-10. The Panthers finished 30-5 that season and advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals after upsetting top-ranked Kansas.
They’re also attempting to set a single-season school record with a seventh straight road victory.
Coach Ben Jacobson’s club has hit a season-high 12 3-pointers in two straight games and is 72 of 153 (47.1 percent) over its last eight. Deon Mitchell is 7 of 8 from deep in his last two and 18 of 27 in his last 11.
“We’ve got guys that are finding themselves with some really good looks,” Jacobson said. “My message to the guys is that you’re going to go out and play really aggressive, and the guys are doing a good job.”
The Panthers also excel inside behind Seth Tuttle, who had 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting in a 68-57 win at Missouri State on Sunday. He has averaged 21.0 points on 69.1 percent shooting in his last five contests.
Tuttle is the nation’s only player averaging at least 16.0 points and 3.0 assists while shooting better 54.0 percent. The 6-foot-8 senior is hitting 62.9 percent of his shots for the nation’s fourth-best mark.
“Seth is so unselfish and he’s got such a good feel that, no matter how he’s going to get defended,” Jacobson said. “He makes everything work.”
He was held to nine points – his lowest in conference play – in a 67-58 home win over the Ramblers on Jan. 4, though Jeremy Morgan scored a career-high 18 and the Panthers forced 19 turnovers. They’ve dropped their last two trips to Loyola, however, including their first visit as a conference foe 93-87 in overtime on Jan. 25, 2014. Mitchell had 23 points but was 5 of 18 from the field.
Milton Doyle scored 28 for Loyola but has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury and it’s unclear if he’ll play. Montel James has averaged a team-best 12.5 points in Doyle’s absence.
After wins over Southern Illinois and at Bradley, Loyola (16-10, 6-8) can claim a third straight conference victory for the first time since 2011 as a Horizon League member.
The Ramblers have lost three other matchups to ranked teams, falling 87-52 at then-No. 19 Michigan State on Nov. 21 and dropping a pair of games to Wichita State by a combined 25 points. They’re 0-9 versus ranked teams since a 71-67 win at then-No. 15 Butler on Feb. 15, 2009, and haven’t beaten a Top 25 team at home since an 83-82 victory against No. 9 Illinois on Dec. 27, 1986.