No. 11 Northern Iowa (25-2, 14-1) won its 14th straight game Wednesday, beating Loyola-Illinois on the road, 58-39. The Panthers led 30-18 at halftime and were never seriously challenged thereafter.
Nate Buss had a solid game off the bench for Northern Iowa, as he was one of just two players on either team to finish in double figures. The senior forward had 10 points, six rebounds and one steal.
“It’s really nice to be able to come off the bench and play the way I do,” Buss said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “The nice thing is it’s not going to be me every single night. There’s a lot of nights where Marv (Singleton) is playing really well, where (Seth Tuttle is) playing really well. Sometimes you even got guys like Bennett Koch coming of the bench, and he can come in and provide some solid minutes for us. It always feels good to be that guy on that night, but it’s also nice to know that you got a bunch of guys on your team around you that can provide that same amount of support.”
Paul Jesperson and Wes Washpun each scored six points off the bench for Northern Iowa. Jesperson hit two three-pointers, and Washpun had a game-high five assists.
“Those two guys are fantastic,” Buss said. “They always bring a lot of energy to the floor when they’re out there. They know that they really mean a lot to this team. They know that they can really get things going offensively and they’re both great on the defensive end as well.”
Loyola (16-11, 6-9) is actually a tough team to play against, especially on the road, but the Panthers limited Loyola to just 16-of-41 (39 percent) from the floor. Loyola also attempted just two free throws all game.
“They are a really tough team,” Buss said. “It’s a tough building to play in. Loyola has a really unique gym in the way it’s set up and everything. They came out, they played really well. I think what we did, we matched their intensity. We matched their toughness. They delivered punches to us, but we delivered them right back.”
Northern Iowa hasn’t lost since a 52-49 setback in Evansville on Jan. 1.
“We come out every single day ready to play,” Buss said. “We’re a really focused team this year. We have a lot of experienced guys that understand all the situations that we’ve been in. We have experience with every situation we’ve been in, whether it’s a close game or whether we’re ahead by 15 or 20. That’s a lot different than it was last year. Last year, we’d have a lead or we’d get behind, and we didn’t know how to handle ourselves. This year, we’ve really come together as a team and really locked in. We have a lot of guys who can step up on any given night. When you have that combination of all those skills, you can put it together every single night like we have been.”
Northern Iowa hosts Bradley (8-20, 3-12) on Feb. 21 and Evansville (19-8, 9-6) on Feb. 25 before ending the regular season at No. 13 Wichita State (24-3, 14-1) in a game that will likely decide the MVC champion. The Panthers beat the Shockers, 70-54, on Jan. 31, but can they do it again?
“We’re just going to prepare for them like we did last game,” Buss said. “We’re going to come out with the same intensity and toughness that we do every single game, and we’re going to give it our best.”