After winning 20 games or more in five straight seasons Northern Iowa took a step back in 2013-14, as they had significant issues on defense and wound up posting a record of 16-15. Armed with an experienced lineup led by one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s best players in senior forward Seth Tuttle, Ben Jacobson’s team has improved substantially on the defensive end. As a result, Northern Iowa has reached the 20-win mark for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
Saturday afternoon in a showdown of the Valley’s two best teams, the 18th-ranked Panthers took care of No. 12 Wichita State 70-54, and the final margin isn’t all that indicative of how much separated the two teams in Cedar Falls. The win moves UNI into a tie for first place in the Valley standings, and given their loss at Evansville earlier in the year this was a game the Panthers needed to get.
UNI was efficient on both ends of the court, shooting 60 percent from the field and 17-for-23 from the foul line, with 36 of their 70 points being scored in the paint. Tuttle led the way with 29 points and seven rebounds, putting forth a sensational performance against the Wichita State front court. While guards Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton receive most of the pub nationally, Saturday’s defeat serves as a reminder that the Shockers also need Darius Carter if they’re to play deep into March.
Carter, who entered the game averaging 12.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, played just nine minutes in the first half due to foul trouble (two points, one rebound) and went back to the bench early in the second half after picking up his third foul. The 6-foot-7 senior finished the game with eight points and three rebounds, but Wichita State needed him to be on the floor more than the 17 minutes he would up playing.
Beginning at the 9:38-mark of the first half Northern Iowa went on a 22-6 run, essentially putting the game away with that surge. Wes Washpun added 16 points, three rebounds and three assists off the bench for UNI, whose depth proved to be another issue for Wichita State. Nine of the ten players who saw action for the Panthers played at least 12 minutes, and each of those nine managed to score at least two points as well.
Wichita State doesn’t have that kind of depth, and given how much their main options struggled offensively Gregg Marshall could not find alternatives in order to get things going on that end of the floor. As a team the Shockers shot 35.4% from the field, with Van Vleet (18 points, 3-for-10 FG) scoring ten of his points from the foul line and Baker tallying ten points on 4-for-12 shooting.
Add in the quiet performances from Carter and Cotton (six points, 2-for-5 FG), and it’s easy to see why the Shockers were fighting an uphill battle for most of the game.
Wichita State put forth one of its worst offensive performances of the season Saturday, but the bigger problem for them was their inability to keep Northern Iowa from finding the shots it wanted. Carter’s foul trouble impacted this, and his production will be something to keep an eye on when the two teams meet February 28 in Wichita.