CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) Northern Iowa quickly dispatched of Evansville, setting up a showdown with 11th-ranked Wichita State for the Missouri Valley title.
Deon Mitchell scored 17 points and the No. 10 Panthers beat Evansville 68-57 on Wednesday night. Paul Jesperson added 11 points for the Panthers (27-2, 16-1 MVC), who are tied with the Shockers atop the conference. The two teams will meet Saturday in Wichita for the regular season championship and the top spot in the league tournament.
''I'm pretty comfortable in saying it's the best game going in college basketball on Saturday,'' Jacobson said of the Panthers upcoming matchup with the Shockers. ''To have yourself in a position where you're lining it up for a conference championship, and you're doing it at a place that's going to be sold out, and you're doing it on ESPN, and you're doing it with Gameday there. It's terrific.''
After Evansville went on a 13-1 run early in the second half to cut the Panthers lead to 45-40 with 12:02 left, the Panthers scored eight straight over the next 2:54 to put the game away.
''They're a hard team to get away from. Regardless of score, they continue to run their stuff, and they run it really well, and they continue to defend hard and play extremely hard,'' Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said of the Purple Aces. ''We responded much better to the way Evansville played.
The two teams played on New Year's Day and the Panthers suffered their lone conference loss, a 52-49 loss at the Ford Center.
''At their place, we weren't able to get stops and able to get ourselves in a position to get back up.''
D.J. Balentine had 16 points to lead Evansville (19-10, 9-8). Egidijius Mockevicius had his 17th double-double of the season for the Purple Aces with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Leading 36-24 at the half, the Panthers stretched their advantage to 17 at with 16:29 left in the game on a layup from Marvin Singleton. The Aces would draw within 45-40 on Mislav Brzoja's layup with 12:09 left, but the Panthers would go on a 15-4 run over the next 5:23 to stretch their lead back to 16 on an acrobatic dunk from Tuttle.
The Aces could get no closer than 11.
Northern Iowa: UNI held senior night for five seniors: Nate Buss, Max Martino, Mitchell, Marvin Singleton and Seth Tuttle. All save for Martino play significant minutes for the Panthers, which is why Wednesday served as a reminder of the rebuilding job Jacobson will have next winter. The win over Evansville was the Panthers 16th consecutive win, a new school record.
Evansville: The Aces outrebounded the Panthers 25-24.
Evansville outscored Northern Iowa 22-20 in the Paint. Northern Iowa scored 26 Points off of 15 Evansville Turnovers.
''I've told him a time or two, this is the best he's played in his entire career. He's playing at both ends: defensively, what he's doing in transition, how he's running our offense, he's playing at the highest level that he has his entire career.''- Jacobson said of Mitchell.
Northern Iowa and Wichita State face off on Saturday.
Evansville hosts Illinois State on Saturday.