A Cinderella story comes to a close

After an impressive turn-around season, the UNI men’s basketball team’s NCAA tournament Cinderella story came to an end March 20.

The Panthers lost to Texas A&M after beating the Texas Longhorns in the final seconds. Both games featured unusual endings.

Paul Jesperson, No. 4, sank a half-court buzzer-beater to first defeat Texas, 75-72. The Panthers lost to Texas A&M, 92-88, despite having a 10-point lead with 30 seconds remaining propelling the contest into two overtimes.

At Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City, 15,279 screaming fans flooded the scene to watch Northern Iowa (23-12) take on the No. 6 seed Texas Longhorns (20-13) for the first round of the championship.

At the start of the game, Texas fans were excited as their Longhorns opened with a 9-2 run in the first three minutes of the game.

After a large group substitution for Texas, Klint Carlson scored from deep and then from the field to cut the lead to 11-9.

After the 10-minute mark, the Panthers maintained control until halftime with a 44-36 lead.

“What a game, huh?” said head coach Ben Jacobson. “In the first half, that middle ten minutes of the first half we played great. I don’t know that we could have played a whole lot better during that stretch, as we knew going in. […] The second half we just had to fight. Texas played great, and we had to fight and fight and fight because we weren’t playing great. As we’ve done, we did. We were able to get a couple stops, so great game. I suppose we got a little lucky at the end, right?”

Conceding a well-contested second half of play, UNI found themselves tied, 72-72, with just three seconds to go.

Jesperson got the ball quickly and dribbled up-court with two Longhorns closely guarding him.

As the final seconds ticked away, Jesperson fired from half court and banked in the buzzer-beater to win the game, 75-72.

“I can’t say I’ve shot that shot in a long time,” Jesperson said. “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. […] just happy it went in.”

UNI vs. Texas A&M

UNI’s next opponent was No. 3 seed Texas A&M (28-8) in a very lengthy contest that progressed all the way into double overtime.

Though a trip to the Sweet 16 seemed locked in with 44 seconds to go, the Panthers began to lose control of the game. Matt Bohannon left for a bit due to injury.

“It felt like were a minute away from dancing,” Jesperson said. “Texas A&M made some great—they had some great individual plays.”

Within those 44 seconds the Aggies managed to tie up the game at 71 all, sending the game into overtime.

“We had all the odds against us the last 30 seconds of regulation and overtime but these guys never gave up,” Lohaus said.

Fighting through a first overtime, UNI had the lead, 83-81, until there was 0:06 left and the Aggies sunk a jumper that tied the game 83 to 83, sending the game into double overtime.

Washpun fouled out during the first overtime, followed by Jesperson in the second overtime.

“It was just a wide range of emotions,” said Matt Bohannon. “And we just couldn’t have been prouder to be with Paul and Wes here and understand what we did this season and what we showed the country and how we understand that we should be moving on.”

The Panthers ultimately lost to the Aggies with a final score of 92-88.

Now that this year’s NCAA run is over, the Panthers are 5-8 for their all-time tournament record.

“We played our tails off,” said Jacobson on the loss, “and unfortunately we were on the wrong side of just a crazy 30 seconds.”

A video from ESPN praised the Panthers’ miracle-filled season. The video stated that UNI had encompassed everything that March Madness is. And even though they are not playing, they are showing other teams how to win and lose with dignity and grace.