Northern Iowa advances to Round of 32 in thriller

Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Northern Iowa is in the NCAA Tournament Second Round of the second consecutive season after upsetting No. 6 seed Texas at the buzzer Friday, 75-72.

“What a game, huh?” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said after.

Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images
Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Boy, was it.

The 11th-seeded Panthers dominated the first half, grabbing a 33-17 lead six minutes before halftime.

But Texas finished the half well and came out on fire in the second period. The Longhorns took a 53-47 lead with 12:30 remaining and led 57-56 when Panthers star point guard Wes Washpun picked up his fourth foul at the 9:45 mark.

Backup point guard Wyatt Lohaus helped keep Northern Iowa from folding, and the team regained a 66-62 lead entering the final six minutes.

The back-and-forth affair continued into the final minute, and the Panthers led 71-70 with 29 seconds left after a driving layup by sophomore forward Klint Carlson.

Texas guard Isaiah Taylor knotted the score at 72-72 with his final of a game-high 22 points with 2.7 seconds to play, but Northern Iowa senior Paul Jesperson drained a half-court heave at the buzzer to give the Panthers their sixth win of the season against a team ranked in the KenPom Top 50.

“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,” said Jesperson, who scored 14 points and shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range. “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.”

In a classic March Madness moment, Northern Iowa and its fans celebrated like crazy while Texas players were left stunned on the court and bench.

“I was behind [Jesperson] and just wanted to go and find him and tackle him to be honest,” said Washpun, who was one of five Panthers to score in double figures with a team-high 17 points. “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 will face No. 3 seed Texas A&M on Sunday with the winner advancing to the West Regional Sweet 16 in Anaheim.

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