OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma — Northern Iowa is now the third college basketball team in the state of Iowa to advance past the first round of this year’s NCAA Tournament but the only one to do so as the lower seed in their matchup.
In a stunning ending, Panther Paul Jesperson hit a game-winning half-court bank shot at the buzzer to send Northern Iowa to the second round. The No. 11 seed Panthers (23-12) upset No. 6 seed Texas (20-13) by a score of 75-72 in Oklahoma City and sent shock waves throughout the college basketball world.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 19, 2016
“I can’t say I’ve shot that shot in a long time,” Jesperson said after the game. “We used to mess around before practice a little bit and shoot those, but I don’t think we’ve shot one of those this year. So, like I said, just happy it went in.”
“Yeah, I mean, there is no way for me to describe what happened at the end,” Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said. “Obviously, the last time we were here in 2010, so many good memories from that trip. I don’t have a way to describe it, and I don’t have an answer. I can tell you about this team. You’ve watched us. They just keep finding a way.”
Before the madness that ensued, Northern Iowa took a 71-70 lead with 30 seconds left when Klint Carlson drove and scored on a smooth left-handed layup in the lane. The Panthers would force the Longhorns to miss on the next possession and Wes Washpun hit one of two free throws after being intentionally fouled.
Down by two points, Texas star Isaiah Taylor scored to tie the game at 72 with under three seconds remaining. The game was all but heading to overtime until Jesperson caught the inbounds pass near half-court and heaved a prayer on the run that would bank in as the horn sounded.
“You know, I caught it and saw there was a guy in front of me, just tried to take a dribble to the left to try to get a little more towards the center of the court,” Jesperson said. “When it left my hand, I felt like it had a chance, but obviously, you never know with that. So just thankful it went in and thankful we get to live another day.”
“I was behind him and just wanted to go and find him and tackle him to be honest,” Washpun said. “I couldn’t be happier for this guy. He deserves every moment of this. He puts in an incredible amount of time to his craft, and he deserves this moment.”
Northern Iowa was led by Washpun’s 17 points, four rebounds, and three assists in addition to two huge blocks in the final minutes. Jesperson finished with 14 points and three rebounds along with the buzzer-beater.
The Panthers will now face No. 3 seed Texas A&M on Sunday at 6:45 p.m. in Oklahoma City. The game will be televised on TruTV.
“It’s a great moment for all of us,” Jesperson said. “We’re just trying to play as long as we can. It’s been different guys every year. Obviously, you guys know the deal. Before this game, it was Wes who hit one at the end of the clock to bring us to this situation. Tonight I hit one that at the end of the buzzer that sends us to a new day. It’s been the deal the whole year. Different guys have stepped up when they needed to and have always been willing to take big shots. We have multiple guys on this team who can make big shots. So we’re happy to be able to play on Sunday, and looking forward to it.”