When the Missouri Valley Conference race began last month, it didn't seem possible that the UNI Panthers could avoid playing on opening night of the league tournament in March. That perspective has significantly changed since an 0-5 start.

The Panthers moved into a tie for third place in the MVC standings with Southern Illinois following a 49-41 win over the Salukis at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls Wednesday night (Feb. 8, 2017). The victory completed a two-game sweep of the season series for UNI and if the Valley tournament began right away, the Panthers would be the No. 3 seed by virtue of the head-to-head tie-breaker.

UNI and Southern Illinois both sit a half-game in front of Missouri State, which plays at Wichita State Thursday night (Feb. 9). The Bears would move into a third-place tie with an upset victory over the Shockers.

Despite offensive troubles, the Panthers never trailed in their game against the Salukis. On two occasions, they led by as many as 11 points in the second half.

UNI (12-12, 7-6 MVC) was limited to a season-low two made three-pointers and shot 11.1 percent (2-of-18) from deep. The Panthers, however, overcame their lack of offense with solid defense play.

Coach Ben Jacobson's squad held Southern Illinois (14-12, 7-6 MVC) to 30 percent shooting from the field and 15.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

The Panthers secured a season-high 41 rebounds.

Klint Carlson scored a game-high 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead UNI. Bennett Koch tallied 12 points and eight rebounds, while Jeremy Morgan nearly recorded a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. Morgan added two blocks and a steal in the win.

The victory pushed the Panthers back to the .500 mark on the season for the first time since a loss to Iowa on Dec. 17. The Salukis lost for the 14th-straight time in Cedar Falls and also dropped to 0-11 all-time at the McLeod Center.

UP NEXT: UNI will head to Missouri State on Sunday for a game 3 p.m. against the Bears in Springfield, Mo.

Courtesy: UNIAthletics MediaRoom via YouTube

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