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Redbirds drop road contest to Northern Iowa

Illinois State cut its second-half deficit to single-digits on three separate occasions, but Missouri Valley Conference-foe Northern Iowa held off ISU’s comeback-attempt, and the Panthers (14-14, 8-8 MVC) never trailed in a 72-59 win over the Redbirds (15-3, 8-8 MVC) Sunday afternoon at the McLeod Center.
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Illinois State cut its second-half deficit to single-digits on three separate occasions, but Missouri Valley Conference-foe Northern Iowa held off ISU’s comeback-attempt, and the Panthers (14-14, 8-8 MVC) never trailed in a 72-59 win over the Redbirds (15-3, 8-8 MVC) Sunday afternoon at the McLeod Center.
 
The loss places ISU in a four-way tie for third place in the league – with Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois – with a home game against Indiana State (21-7, 12-4 MVC) Wednesday and a road contest at Southern Illinois (12-17, 8-8 MVC) Saturday remaining.
 
Zach Lofton netted a career-best and game-high 24 points on a career-high eight field goals, including four three-pointers, to lead the Redbirds. Reggie Lynch chipped in 10 points with a team-best seven rebounds to match his career mark. Meanwhile, Seth Tuttle led four Panthers in double-figures with 18 points and nine rebounds.
 
UNI shot 46.9 percent from the field compared to ISU’s 41.2 percent clip, and rebounding was even at 30 boards apiece. The Redbirds matched their season-best steals mark with 11 as Illinois State outscored Northern Iowa, 35-32, in the second half but still came up short.
 
Northern Iowa established an early 10-0 lead in the first half – with six points from Tuttle during the opening stretch – as the Redbirds were held scoreless until Lofton’s deep fade-away two-pointer at the 13:30 mark. Lofton’s bucket sparked a 6-3 run to pull within 13-6 with 11:15 remaining in the first half. Back-to-back Lofton three-pointers cut Illinois State’s deficit to 20-14.
 
The Panthers then proceeded to gain a 17-point advantage – their largest of the game – at the 7:33 mark; however, the Redbirds answered with a 6-0 run on a pair of Lofton free throws and layups by Lofton and Jamaal Samuel to pull within 31-20 with 6:28 remaining in the opening stanza. UNI outscored ISU, 7-2, to end the half, and the Panthers led, 40-24, at the intermission.
 
In the second half, Illinois State outscored Northern Iowa, 11-3, to pull within 47-38 at the 13:10 mark. After the Panthers regained their double-digit lead, a Lofton three-pointer pulled ISU within 10 points, 53-43, with 9:14 remaining.
 
The Redbirds trimmed their deficit to single digits two more times – on a Lofton three-pointer to make the score, 64-55, with 3:12 left, and on a Lynch layup which made the score 68-59 at the 1:38 mark. UNI went on to net the final four points en route to a 72-59 victory.

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