CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) Northern Iowa is off to a 16-2 start in large part because it's among the deepest teams in the country.
But the Panthers also have a bona fide star in Seth Tuttle, who showed Sunday why he's among the nation's most underrated big men.
Tuttle scored 22 points with 10 rebounds and No. 23 Northern Iowa cruised past Missouri State 60-46 on Sunday for its fifth straight win.
''He's playing at a high level right now,'' Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. ''He's making a lot of good plays.''
Deon Mitchell had 11 points for the Panthers (16-2, 5-1 MVC), who moved into a tie for second place in the Valley with Indiana State with the win.
Northern Iowa made quick work of the overmatched Bears (8-10, 2-4), who only dressed nine players.
The Panthers pushed a 12-point halftime lead to 47-30 midway through the second half and won by double digits for the fourth consecutive game.
Austin Ruder had 13 points for Missouri State, which played its second game without suspended star Marcus Marshall.
It was clear from the opening possession that the Panthers were focused on feeding Tuttle in the post.
Missouri State simply had no way of stopping him.
Tuttle had 16 points in the first half - nearly all of them from inside 5 feet - and Northern Iowa moved ahead 32-20. Despite a sloppy start to the second half, the Panthers were able to push their lead to 60-39 as Tuttle picked up his 18th career double-double.
''He's a great player,'' Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said of Tuttle. ''If you stay one-on-one on him, he's going to score. He's got tremendous footwork.''
Marvin Singleton scored 10 points with nine rebounds for Northern Iowa, which sits a game behind No. 13 Wichita State (16-2, 6-0) in the Valley.
The Panthers and Shockers meet for the first time on Jan. 31 in Cedar Falls.
''Our defense has been improving,'' Mitchell said. ''We've just playing a lot more aggressive.''
Northern Iowa: President Barack Obama visited Cedar Falls for a speech on Wednesday. He referenced the Panthers by saying that ''most folks learned a few years ago that when March rolls around, you do not bet against UNI'' - a nod to their win over top-ranked Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament. The Panthers played that clip from Obama moments before tip-off.
Missouri State: Marshall, the team's leading scorer at 19.5 points per game, was suspended on Wednesday by Lusk for detrimental conduct. The school announced Friday that Marshall will transfer to another school at the end of the spring semester. Marshall's departure left the Bears without a starter averaging more than 8.5 points a game.
Northern Iowa outrebounded Missouri State 37-26. The Panthers also matched their win total from 2013-14 with 12 games left in the regular season.
Jacobson delayed the start of his post-game press conference so he and everyone else in the media room could catch the end of the NFC Championship Game. ''Hey, I'm a sports fan too,'' Jacobson said.
Northern Iowa hosts Indiana State on Wednesday.
Missouri State hosts No. 13 Wichita State on Wednesday.