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Updated: Tuesday, March 2, 2004 12:05 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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Northern Iowa 68, (15) Southern Ill 52

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (Ticker) -- Southern Illinois' dream of an undefeated season in the Missouri Valley Conference is over.

Matt Schneiderman and David Gruber each scored 16 points as Northern Iowa handed the 15th-ranked Salukis their first loss in conference play with a 68-52 triumph in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Southern Illinois was trying to become the first team in 18 years to finish MVC play undefeated, a feat achieved by Indiana State in 1978-79 and Bradley in 1985-86. Instead, the Salukis (24-3, 17-1 MVC) had their 16-game winning streak stopped, suffering their first loss since a 64-59 setback to Charlotte on January 2.

"Our offense has sputtered at times this year," said Southern Illinois coach Matt Painter, whose team shot 34 percent (21-of-62) from the field and went 6-of-14 from the free throw line. "But if you guard your man and play team defense and you scrap for every ball, you can win those games when you don't shoot well."

Ben Jacobson added 13 points and eight rebounds for Northern Iowa (20-7, 12-6), which remained tied for third place in the conference with Creighton.

The Panthers, who have won five in a row and seven of the past eight, also handed Creighton its first conference loss on January 14. They held Southern Illinois to a season-low 52 points while recording their first 20-win season since 1989-90.

Darren Brooks, who leads the Salukis in scoring with 16.6 points per game, managed just 10 on 4-of-13 shooting. LaMar Owen and Jamaal Tatum also had 10 points apiece for Southern Illinois, which had already clinched the regular season conference crown.

The Salukis trailed, 11-8, six minutes into the first half before the Panthers went on a 10-3 run to open a double-digit advantage with 8:43 left before intermission. Northern Iowa held a 33-21 lead at halftime and pushed its advantage to as much as 21 points in the second half.

Playing with a bandage on his broken left wrist, the righthanded Gruber also pulled down nine rebounds as the Panthers held a 42-37 edge on the boards while converting 22-of-26 from the line to make up for 39-percent (19-of-48) shooting.

Northern Iowa played without guard Chris Foster, who tore a ligament in his right knee on Sunday at Indiana State.


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