Northern Iowa seeks fifth straight 20-victory season

CEDAR FALLS – Something’s got to give in the Northern Iowa-Illinois-Chicago men’s basketball series.

With a slim 11-10 lead in the 21-game series, Illinois-Chicago looks to take a comfortable lead when the Panthers and Flames tip off their second-round tournament game at the McLeod Center.

The Panthers try to secure their fifth straight 20-win season. The Panthers and Flames will tip off at 7 p.m.

The most recent game – early in the 2008-09 season – was won by Illinois-Chicago, which comes into the game having won its first-ever postseason game when it defeated Chicago State in the first round of the CBI on Wednesday.

Northern Iowa’s four consecutive seasons of 20 or more wins is the longest active streak in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Panthers also are 14-3 at home and would set a single-season record for most home wins in a season with their next victory in Cedar Falls.

Illinois Chicago is not stranger to the big stage. The Flames (18-15) began the season 9-1 with wins over NCAA Tournament teams Colorado State and Iona and also beat Northwestern.

They have four players averaging in double-figures, led by Gary Talton’s 12.5 ppg. Daniel Barnes scores 12.2 ppg, while Josh Crittle (10.5 ppg) and Hayden Humes (10.4 ppg) also score in double-digits.

Like the Flames, the Panthers present several challenges on the offensive end with four players scoring at least 10 points per game. The Panthers’ four seniors also have played in 250 career games.

One of those seniors is second-team all-MVC guard Anthony James, who leads the Panthers (19-14) in scoring at 13 per game. Fellow senior Marc Sonnen is one of the best shooters in the nation as he also averages in double-figures and has made a Northern Iowa record 91 3-pointers on the season.

Sophomore Seth Tuttle also scores 10.9 points per game and pulls down 6.5 rebounds per contest. Right behind Tuttle is senior Jake Koch, who scores 10.4 ppg and hauls in 6.5 boards per tilt. The fifth starter on the Panthers’ roster is Deon Mitchell and he averages nearly 10 points per game as well.

The Panthers secured a spot in the second round of the CIT after a 77-66 win over North Dakota at the McLeod Center on Wednesday. That win gave the Panthers a postseason win in four straight seasons – NCAAs in 2010, NIT in 2012 and the CIT in 2011 and 2013.