CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) Northern Iowa is off to a 12-2 start in large part because of its standout bench.
But the Panthers leaned on starters such as Jeremy Morgan to hold off upstart Loyola on Sunday.
Morgan scored a career-high 18 points and No. 23 Northern Iowa beat Loyola of Illinois 67-58 for its third win in four games.
Deon Mitchell added 13 points and the Panthers (12-2, 1-1 Missouri Valley) bounced back from their first conference loss by holding off the upstart Ramblers (11-3, 1-1).
The Panthers entered play ranked 10th with 32.2 points a game from its backups. But Northern Iowa got just 16 from the reserves Sunday as Morgan and the rest of the starters took over both ends of the floor.
''Right now, his effort is at the highest it's been. I think that's helped him on the defensive end of the floor. I think it's helped him offensively,'' Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said about Morgan.
Northern Iowa pushed a four-point halftime lead to 59-41 on Seth Tuttle's layup with 5:31 left. Loyola responded with 11 quick points before its late rally fell short.
Milton Doyle had 13 points for Loyola. The Ramblers fell a victory short of their first eight-game winning streak in 30 years.
On Thursday night against Evansville, Northern Iowa led by as much as 16, but made just six baskets in the second half and lost 52-49.
The Panthers got back to shooting the way they usually do against the Ramblers.
Loyola stayed in the game for a half by shooting nearly as well.
Both teams shot over 50 percent in the first half, which ended with Northern Iowa ahead 32-28. But the Ramblers went 4 minutes without scoring and left Mitchell wide open for a 3 to give the Panthers their first double-digit lead, 39-28.
Tuttle's 3-point play made it 50-38 midway through the second half.
The Panthers missed seven free throws in the last 3 minutes, allowing Loyola to hang around until the final seconds.
''It was extremely important coming off the (loss) that we had,'' Jacobson said.
Northern Iowa: The Panthers have been ranked for three weeks this season, but their spot might be in jeopardy after the loss to Evansville. This is the first season that Northern Iowa reached the Top 25 since 2009-10. ''Coach (Jacobson) just let us know that we need to compete. Whatever happens, we're going to make mistakes. But we've got to compete,'' Morgan said.
Loyola: The Ramblers, who went 10-22 in their first season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, have already surpassed their win total from a year ago. But they're still looking for their first winning season under coach Porter Moser, who's now in his fourth year.
Loyola had 19 turnovers, and five different Panthers had at least two steals. The Ramblers outrebounded Northern Iowa 32-29, but they were outscored 32-16 in the paint
Northern Iowa freshman Bennett Koch was wide open under the basket midway through the first half when he went up for a dunk. He blew the dunk and then kept one hand on the rim while he tried to grab the ball with the other. That earned Koch a technical foul.
Northern Iowa hosts Southern Illinois on Wednesday night.
Loyola plays at Evansville on Wednesday night.
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