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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — Northern Iowa's reserves outscored its starters yet again, and that's a good sign for the Panthers with Missouri Valley Conference play on the horizon.
Nate Buss scored 14 points off the bench and 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa closed out non-conference play with a 74-63 Sunday win over South Dakota State.
Wes Washpun had 12 points and Seth Tuttle scored 11 for the Panthers (11-1), who got 45 points from their substitutes.
Northern Iowa took control with a 13-0 run late in the first half. The Panthers let the Jackrabbits close to within five with 6:11 left before putting them away late to improve to 6-0 at home.
"They've been good all year. I think we've got one of the best benches in the country," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said.
George Marshall had 16 to lead South Dakota State (9-5), which dropped its second straight game against a Top 25 opponent. The Jackrabbits were beaten by No. 14 Utah 80-66 on Tuesday.
Sunday's game was the first for Northern Iowa at home as a ranked team since 2010, a season highlighted by their memorable NCAA tournament win over top-seeded Kansas.
Time will tell if these Panthers can match that team, which won both the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
But they're certainly off to a good start.
Northern Iowa has three double-digit wins over Power 5 opponents (Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Iowa), and its only loss came in double overtime at VCU.
The Panthers wrapped up the non-league portion of their schedule by showing off the depth that's made them so tough so far.
Ten players scored for the Panthers, including eight in the first half alone, and their bench has either matched or surpassed the point total for the starting five in three of their last four games.
Still, South Dakota State got its deficit down to 60-55 on back-to-back 3s by Reed Tellinghuisen. But backup forward Buss answered with a 3, and Tuttle found Wes Washpun underneath for a layup that pushed Northern Iowa back in front 65-55.
Paul Jesperson had 10 points for the Panthers, who shot 58 percent from the field.
"I told (the team) they can feel really good about what they've done in November and December," Jacobson said. "Now that ends. The real season comes now."
Northern Iowa: The Jackrabbits cut Northern Iowa's lead to 39-30 by halftime. But Tuttle opened the second half by drilling just his fifth 3 of the year, and he set a career high with nine assists. "It's nice to have that number. But people have to make shots," Tuttle said.
South Dakota State: Senior Cody Larson, who grew up in nearby Sioux Falls, South Dakota, originally committed to Iowa. He instead went to Florida, where he played sparingly in 2011-12, before transferring closer to home. Larson had seven points and six rebounds. Deondre Parks had 15 for the Jackrabbits, but he was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range.
South Dakota State had just six assists on 23 made baskets, and the Jackrabbits turned the ball over 11 times. Northern Iowa gave it away just seven times with 14 assists on 26 field goals.
Northern Iowa's Deon Mitchell broke through South Dakota State's defense for a pair of layups to give the Panthers a 20-18 lead. Washpun followed by beating four Jackrabbits off the dribble for a runner that put Northern Iowa ahead 24-18. The Panthers would eventually push their lead to as much as 16, though they needed a few late stops and baskets to secure the win.
Northern Iowa: plays at Evansville on Wednesday.
South Dakota State: faces Denver on Thursday.
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