S-M-U (19-14) at Northern Iowa (20-13)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Monday, March 21st, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: McLeod Center (6,650) -- Cedar Falls, Iowa. Television: none. CIT Record: SMU 2-0, Northern Iowa 1-0. Series Record: S-M-U leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The SMU Mustangs and the Northern Iowa Panthers will take to the McCleod Center court tonight for a CollegeInsider.com Tournament quarterfinal matchup.
The victor will advance to Friday's semifinals, for a date with the Santa Clara/San Francisco winner.
SMU's first-ever appearance in the CIT has proven fortuitous. After closing the regular season with four consecutive losses, the Mustangs captured a 64-57 overtime victory over Oral Roberts to open tourney play, before downing Jacksonville, 63-62, to advance the quarterfinals.
Northern Iowa, also appearing in its first CIT, earned a trip to the quarterfinals with an 80-54 first round win over Rider and a second-round bye. The Panthers, who also closed the regular season with four consecutive losses, have now won 20 games for the third straight season, marking the longest active streak in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Tonight's game marks just the second meeting on the hardwood between SMU and Northern Iowa. The initial matchup occurred during the 1988-89 campaign, with the Mustangs earning an 80-73 victory.
Papa Dia proved to be the hero in SMU's victory over Jacksonville, as he scored 24 points and drained two free throws with 0.1 seconds remaining to seal the result. Four lead changes highlighted the final 47 seconds of play, as Jacksonville took its first lead of the game at 59-58, before SMU's Jeremiah Samarrippas answered with a reverse layup and a free throw with 14.3 seconds left. After Jacksonville responded with a three-pointer to take a 62-61 lead, Collin Mangrum found Dia under the basket to set up the game- winning trip to the line. Dia added eight rebounds and three blocks to his game-high scoring total, while Samarrippas added 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Led by Dia, the Mustangs imposed their will in the trenches, outscoring Jacksonville 32-16 in the paint. On the season, Dia paces the squad in both scoring (18.7 ppg ) and rebounding (9.4 rpg). Fellow big man Robert Nyakundi adds support, ranking second on the team in both scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (4.2 rpg), while adding a team-high 90 three-pointers. On the whole, SMU knocks down a healthy 7.9 threes per game and scores 65.2 ppg. Defensively, the Mustangs hold their opponents to 61.4 ppg
Northern Iowa barely broke a sweat in its quarterfinal-clinching win over Rider, as it jumped out to a 15-0 lead, hit 10 first half three-pointers and racked up a season-high 47 first half points to cruise to victory. For the game, the Panthers shot 53.8 percent from the field, including 54.2 percent from beyond the arc. Anthony James led the way with 15 points behind a 3-of-5 performance from downtown, while Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Johnny Moran each added 14 points. Ahelegbe also handed out seven of the team's 17 assists, while committing just one turnover. On the whole, Northern Iowa committed just 10 turnovers, marking the 23rd time this season that it has committed 10 or fewer turnovers. Taking care of the ball has become a trend for the Panthers, who rank among the best nationally in turnovers per game (9.4). They have also shown a proficiency from deep, as they knock down 7.4 three-pointers per game and have connected on a single-season school record 245 threes. Ahelegbe leads the scoring charge at 14 ppg, while James and Jake Koch add 12.6 and 8.9 ppg, respectively. In all, the Panthers score a modest 64.2 ppg, but compensate with a strong defense, allowing just 60.3 ppg.
These teams are relatively evenly matched, but give the edge to SMU, which should receive another strong performance from Dia.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 69, Northern Iowa 65
03/21 10:35:50 ET