Bradley-N. Iowa Preview
Northern Iowa hasn't tasted defeat often this season, but Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year Ben Jacobson has been proud of how his team has responded following its previous losses.
After missing out on the regular-season title, the 11th-ranked Panthers look to win their first conference tournament game in five trips to St. Louis when they face No. 10 seed Bradley in the quarterfinals Friday night.
Northern Iowa (27-3) lost its first MVC game to Evansville on Jan. 1, then ran off a school-record 16 straight wins before falling 74-60 at then-No. 11 Wichita State on Saturday. Its only other loss was a 93-87 double-overtime heartbreaker at VCU on Dec. 13.
Jacobson is confident the Panthers will be able to put their most recent defeat behind them.
"The loss at VCU, the loss to Evansville, the loss on Saturday - each game counts as one. And when you make it more than that, the more it has an impact on the next game," Jacobson said. "The three losses, some of the games we've won that you can consider bigger games where you can get distracted, these guys have not. This is no different."
MVC player of the year Seth Tuttle was the only Panther in double figures with 16 points against the Shockers and added seven rebounds and six assists. He is one of five seniors who has never won a game in the conference tournament, though.
Northern Iowa's last victory in St. Louis came when it beat Wichita State in the 2010 championship game.
"There's an excitement every year getting on the bus down to St. Louis," Tuttle said. "There's no reason we shouldn't have a motivation and a focus moving forward."
Jacobson realizes most are expecting the Panthers and Shockers to meet in Sunday's title game after splitting two regular-season meetings, and that doesn't bother him one bit.
"I'm really proud of the program that we have and the foundation that we have," Jacobson said. "We don't shy away from those expectations, but at no time does it haunt us in any way. That's what this is about. You're going to be striving toward a championship, that's it."
Northern Iowa has won seven of the last eight meetings with Bradley (9-23), including a 63-52 victory Jan. 13 and a 56-39 win Feb. 21. That game marked the Braves' fewest points since a 51-37 loss to Missouri State on Jan. 27, 1992.
''Offensively, we were just anemic,'' coach Geno Ford said after that contest.
That's pretty much been the case all season. Bradley is one of the worst-shooting teams in the nation, hitting 37.7 percent on the season and 34.8 percent over its last seven.
The Braves hit just 19 of 56 from the field Thursday against seventh-seeded Drake in the first round, but they pulled out a 52-50 overtime victory to snap a six-game losing streak.
Auston Barnes finished with 13 points while hitting three 3-pointers, and the 7-foot-1 Nate Wells added 10.
Northern Iowa led the Missouri Valley in field-goal percentage defense and scoring defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 39.0 percent while giving up an average of 54.6 points.