Opener at Northern Iowa offers tough task for CSU, rematch for Daniels

Sam Lounsberry

Starting the season out with a win would also come with taste of revenge for Colorado State starting center Tiel Daniels.

When he and the Rams play Northern Iowa on Saturday in their regular-season opener, it will be Daniels’ fifth game against the Panthers.
 
Before transferring to CSU, the redshirt senior played his first two years at Southern Illinois, a part of the Missouri Valley Conference with UNI. But Daniels’ Saluki teams didn’t fair so well against the Panthers in his four chances with them. He went 1-3 vs. UNI in his two years in the Missouri Valley. 
Tiel Daniels throws it down during a blowout win over Fresno State.
Tiel Daniels throws it down during a blowout win over Fresno State.
 
“Unfortunately, when I was at SIU we couldn’t get it done, but I think it’s a new Tiel and I’m with a new team,” Daniels said.
 
But the Panthers have a new team this year, too. Gone is Seth Tuttle, a consensus second-team All-American last season, following his fourth year lighting up the Missouri Valley. Tuttle led the conference in scoring and field goal percentage in 2014-15, helping UNI notch the 16th best shooting percentage in the nation en route to its school-record 34 wins.
 
Daniels and Tuttle both received All-Freshman team honors in the Missouri Valley in 2011-12.
 
With the departure of his four-year star, UNI coach Ben Jacobson is trying to answer some of the same questions as CSU coach Larry Eustachy, who lost his top three players from last year’s 27-win team in JJ Avila, Stanton Kidd and Daniel Bejarano.
 
“They lost a lot and we lost a lot,” Daniels said. “We’re still trying to find life after we lost a lot of our scoring, defense and leadership. Two similar teams in the same position, so it’s a great measuring stick for us.”
 
Likely to replace Tuttle in the middle for the Panthers Saturday is 6-foot-9 sophomore Bennett Koch. But Jacobson has expressed some concern over the youth and physicality of the big men on his roster.
 
A lack of physicality rarely characterizes any of Eustachy’s team, though, as team rebounding and defense are always his emphasis. With both teams’ offenses likely to look less than perfect in the early season, hustle points could easily determine Saturday’s victor.
 
“Two inexperienced teams, it’s just who’s going to go out there and be more determined to win the game,” CSU guard Gian Clavell said. “Who’s going to have more toughness and get more stops, those are the guys that will get the win.”
 
Some experience carried over from last year for UNI, though. The Panthers will likely start three seniors: Matt Bohannon (the only Panther to face Daniels remaining on UNI’s roster), last year’s MV Sixth Man of the Year Wes Washpun, and Paul Jesperson. Joining those three and Koch will likely be junior Jeremy Morgan.
 
Eustachy voiced some fears about this Panthers squad after practice Tuesday, while also recognizing a tough opening bout will be beneficial, win or lose.
 
“We’re not ready for this game,” Eustachy said. “We’re as ready as we can be, but it’s a tough task.”
 
“These games are good either way,” he added. “It’s not going to have any outcome on what kind of season we have. One game doesn’t effect the next, but we’ve been there and it’s very tough to play there. Hopefully we can go there and not let the situation break us down. I would rather play this game than a game we would win for sure.”
 
CSU last played UNI on the road in non-conference action during the 2011-12 season, falling short on a second-half comeback effort 83-77.
 
Later that same season, the Panthers rolled on to beat SIU when Daniels was a freshman. It wasn’t until his fourth and final try that Daniels finally managed a win over UNI.
 
“I really want this win,” Daniels said. “It means a lot to me and it means a lot to our team.”
 
Ram fans can see if Daniels and CSU can open the season with a win Saturday over UNI on ESPN3, and can hear the call on 105.5 FM ESPN. Tipoff is set for 10 a.m. MT.
 
Collegian Sports Editor Sam Lounsberry can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @samlounz.