TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Ali Farokhmanesh has been around long enough to understand the ups and downs of the Missouri Valley, a conference that for years has been one of the best of the so-called mid-majors.
That’s why the Northern Iowa guard wasn’t surprised when his team came out flat against Wichita State earlier in the week, and why it rebounded so well against Indiana State.
“We probably didn’t handle Wichita State all that well,” Farokhmanesh said after the No. 20 Panthers’ 67-58 victory over the Sycamores on Sunday. “They played our game against us, and we need to be able to play our game well enough.
“Then we came here, and after that loss, we really had to bounce back,” he continued. “I think we showed up today.”
Kerwin Dunham scored a career-high 14 points, and Jordan Eglseder added 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks for the Panthers (17-2, 8-1), whose loss to Wichita State snapped the nation’s second-longest winning streak at 15 games.
And also proved the league still is deep from top to bottom.
“Northern Iowa is a very good team. When you make a mistake, they make you pay,” Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna said. “They’re just solid in every aspect of the game. They play physical, they play smart, they play hard. They don’t make many mistakes, and if you do make a mistake, they make you pay.”
Dunham hit all four of his first-half attempts, including both of his 3-pointers, as Northern Iowa outscored Indiana State 15-4 in the last 8 minutes to take a 30-19 lead.
Northern Iowa’s lead never grew bigger than 14 points in the second half, and Indiana State cut the advantage to 45-39 with 8:13 to go. Farokhmanesh hit a 3 out of a timeout to stretch the lead back to nine, though, and Kwadzo Ahelegbe’s layup made it 50-39 with 5:33 to go.
“They’re a tough team, well-coached, they’re not going to beat themselves,” said Harry Marshall, who scored 13 for the Sycamores. “Last year they won the championship, and now they’re showing that they’re champions for a reason.
“Any team you have coming in like that — confident, well-coach and clicking well — it’s hard to beat them. It’s a small margin for error.”
The Panthers wound up shooting 51.1 percent from the field (23 of 45) and were 15 of 19 from the foul line, but balanced the positive production with 14 turnovers.
Adam Koch, one of 12 players in school history with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds, was held to nine points on only 1 of 7 shooting from the field for Northern Iowa.
“We have a lot of great players on this team who are always ready,” Ahelegbe said. “Kerwin really stepped up big for us. He made some big defensive stops and some big shots.”
Rashad Reed scored 14 points to lead Indiana State (11-9, 3-6), which has lost four straight games. Brant Leitnaker added 10 points.
It was the second time in eight days the two teams met, with Northern Iowa beating the Sycamores 62-40 in Cedar Falls on Jan. 16. It was also the 11th win in 13 conference road games over the past two seasons for the Panthers; both of the losses were at Wichita State.
“You’d better bring your hardhat, because they’re a tough, physical team,” McKenna said of the Panthers. “You have to make physical plays, and you have to be strong with the ball. You have to grind like crazy. You have to play really hard and really smart. They make you pay when you make a mistake at both ends.”