Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun drove into the lane, scored and drew a foul. He looked at the students going crazy behind the basket and smiled and nodded.
He knew, even though the first half wasn’t over. He knew he could get to the basket whenever he wanted. And if he didn’t, center Seth Tuttle did.
No. 18 Northern Iowa routed No. 12 Wichita State 70-54 on Saturday at the McLeod Center, dropping the Shockers into a first-place tie in the Missouri Valley Conference and ending the most dominant run by a Valley team since World War II.
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Tuttle scored 29 pointson 9-of-13 shooting, shaking his head at the Shockers in disdain after an up and under move in the second half. Washpun added 16 points and three assists. The Panthers shot 60 percent from the field and led by double digits the final 22 minutes.
“We were trying to get a statement win and I feel like we got one,” Tuttle said.
Nobody can argue that. For the first time in the post-Creighton era, Wichita State faces a challenge. The teams meet again on Feb. 28 at Koch Arena, giving the Shockers a month to digest their poor shooting and subpar defense.
“Tuttle was unstoppable,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Great atmosphere. Experienced team. All the things you would not want to run into when you play the way we played.”
The damage is mostly historic. All the Shockers really did was lose a game on a contender’s home court. They still control their own destiny in the MVC race and can blame Saturday on the kind of miserable shooting game that likely won’t happen at Koch Arena.
“We got looks, that’s the most disappointing part,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “We just didn’t make the shots. They were making theirs, and that’s the recipe to lose.”
WSU lost a regular-season MVC game for the first time since March 2, 2013.
▪ WSU’s 27-game regular-season MVC win streak, a modern-day record, ended. The Shockers had won 30 straight against MVC opponents, counting tournament games, since losing to Creighton in the 2013 MVC Tournament. The Bluejays won that one 91-79, WSU’s previous double-digit loss.
▪ A 13-game MVC road win streak ended with WSU’s first conference loss since at Creighton on March 2, 2013.
The Panthers (20-2, 9-1 MVC) did it convincingly. Their defense frustrated the Shockers (19-3, 9-1) and held them to 5 of 24 from three-point range. UNI’s offense ran the Shockers ragged with a pick and roll attack that sent Washpun zooming past defenders to the basket and gave Tuttle free runs to the rim.
“I was just feeding off the energy of the crowd,” Washpun said. “When you get a crowd like that behind you, it really gives you a boost of energy.”
Tuttle passed his previous career high by five points with a variety of moves WSU failed to counter. He scored rolling to the basket. He scored popping free for a three-pointer. He posted up and used expert footwork and fakes. Washpun scored on layups, fed Tuttle, and brought the crowd to its feet by dribbling through most of the defense for a two-handed dunk in the second half.
“Washpun was just picking us apart,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “Double ball-screen at the top of the key. That was their go-to play and we couldn’t stop it.”
VanVleet led WSU with 18 points. Baker added 12, missing 8 of 10 three-pointers. WSU shot 17 of 48 for the game (35.4 percent) and committed 11 turnovers. Senior forward Darius Carter played 17 foul-plagued minutes and scored eight points on 4-of-11 shooting.
“It really wasn’t our night,” Baker said. “We were missing open looks, some of it not ready to shoot. Loose balls were theirs.”
UNI closed the first half on a 19-6 run, helped by WSU turnovers and a 1-for-8 shooting stretch.
WSU missed four of its first six shots in the second half, helping the Panthers start on an 8-4 run to build a 45-28 lead. They pushed it to 18 before WSU’s defense rallied. Carter scored to cut the lead to 49-33 and VanVleet forced a turnover by Washpun. Carter scored again to make it 49-35.
Six straight points by the Panthers changed the momentum. Marvin Singleton — 1 of 7 from three entering the game — made a corner three for a 53-35 lead and the crowd roared.
The first half didn’t go much better for WSU.
Tuttle scored UNI’s first seven points to stake the Panthers to a 7-5 lead. He drove past Carter to score twice. Then he worked a pick-and-pop with guard Deon Mitchell to make a three-pointer.
With Carter struggling, WSU went to freshman Shaq Morris and he dunked twice, losing UNI’s Bennett Koch both times, on passes from VanVleet. After trailing 10-5, a three by Baker gave WSU a 16-14 lead.
The Panthers took a 21-18 lead on Nate Buss’ three. After VanVleet’s lob pass went astray, UNI’s Matt Bohannon made a three near the end of the shot clock for a 24-18 lead.
A three-point play by VanVleet cut the lead to 24-21. UNI pushed its edge back to 27-21.
Then Washpun went to work on the pick and roll again. Tuttle dunked when the Shockers lost him. After Tekele Cotton walked, Washpun drove and converted a three-point play for a 32-21 lead.
With Carter and Morris in foul trouble, freshman Rauno Nurger tried to guard Tuttle. Tuttle drove past him for a three-point play and a 35-21 lead. Washpun drove into the lane and scored over Nurger to make it 37-24 at halftime.
WSU ended the half on a 2-for-11 cold streak. The Shockers committed six turnovers, leading to 11 UNI points. Three offensive rebounds led to no second-chance points for the Shockers.