Northern Iowa has already clinched its first outright regular-season Missouri Valley Conference title, but it still has something to strive for during the final week of league play.
The No. 25 Panthers have a chance to set a pair of school records while trying for an 11th consecutive victory over host Evansville on Tuesday night.
Back in the Top 25 after dropping out for one week following a nine-point loss at Bradley on Feb. 13, Northern Iowa (24-3, 14-2) plays its first conference game since clinching the MVC title with a 70-52 home win over Creighton last Tuesday. After sharing the regular-season championship with the Bluejays in 2008-09, the Panthers are the first conference school to win consecutive titles since Southern Illinois won four in a row from 2001-05.
“We just do a good job of staying levelheaded and knowing that if we stay fundamentally sound and focused we’ll make some plays,” said Northern Iowa senior Adam Koch, who’s averaging a team-leading 12.3 points.
Coming off a 71-62 non-conference home win over Old Dominion on Friday, Northern Iowa returns to league play looking to set a single-season school record for conference victories. The Panthers also have a chance to secure a school-best 10th road win while trying for their fifth consecutive victory at Evansville (7-20, 1-15).
Even with star 7-footer Jordan Eglseder (12.2 points, 7.6 rebounds per game) to miss the last of a three-game suspension for an arrest on charges of operating a motor vehicle under the influence, the Panthers still look to be in good shape to achieve both feats.
Last in the conference, Evansville has lost three in a row and 17 of 18. The lone victory during that span came against Wichita State—the Aces’ only conference victory. Evansville hasn’t beaten Northern Iowa since Jan. 7, 2005.
Koch had 16 points and Johnny Moran added 15 in the Panthers’ 65-46 home win over the Aces on Jan. 1. Though Koch has totaled 23 points in his last three contests, he’s averaging 14.2 in his last five against Evansville.
Senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh scored 23 points versus Old Dominion and is averaging 18.0 in his last three games.
Second in the nation defensively in allowing 55.4 points per game, Northern Iowa has held the Aces to 58.8 on 39.6 percent shooting during its 10-game winning streak in the series.
Evansville had four players in double figures, but fell 82-80 against Illinois-Chicago in a non-conference contest Saturday. Clint Hopf had a career-high 18 points while James Haarsma scored 17 and freshman Colt Ryan added 16 for the Aces, who average 66.2 points—only the Panthers average (64.1) fewer points among Missouri Valley teams.
Ryan, who averages a team-leading 14.9 points, was held scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting against Northern Iowa on New Year’s Day.
Evansville is 0-10 against Top 25 opponents since beating then-No. 10 Creighton 74-66 on Jan. 23, 2003.