OKLAHOMA CITY — On the craziest of days for lower seeds in the NCAA Tournament, Paul Jesperson provided the craziest finish.
The senior guard banked in a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to give 11th-seeded Northern Iowa a 75-72 win over No. 6 seed Texas in the first round of the West Region. The Panthers were the sixth double-digit seed to win on Friday.
Northern Iowa passed the ball in under its basket after Texas’ Isaiah Taylor tied the game on a layup with 2.7 seconds to play. Matt Bohannon found Jesperson, who took a few dribbles and launched.
"I told those guys I thought it had a chance when it left my hand, because I got it more toward the centre of the court," Jesperson said. "But, yeah, when it went in, I looked at my parents, I saw my brother there, both my brothers, and I was extremely happy and grateful that that thing went in."
Texas’ Javan Felix thought the worst when Jesperson let it go.
"I was right behind him when he released it, so it looked good all the way," Felix said. "I was just really hoping it didn’t though."
Wes Washpun scored 17 points, Jeremy Morgan scored 16 and Jesperson added 14 for the Panthers (23-12), who claimed their fifth NCAA Tournament win in school history and advanced to play Texas A&M on Sunday.
Oklahoma City has seen its share of dramatic shots. There was Bryce Drew’s buzzer beater at the old Myriad that gave upstart Valparaiso a win over Mississippi in 1998. There was the 3-pointer Ali Farokhmanesh hit in the final minute to help Northern Iowa beat Kansas in 2010. Just last month at Chesapeake Energy Arena, just a few feet away from where Jesperson shot, Stephen Curry’s long 3-pointer in overtime beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"He might have topped them all with that one," Washpun said.
Taylor scored 22 points, Eric Davis Jr. scored 13 and Felix added 12 for the Longhorns (20-13).
For once, Texas’ Shaka Smart was on the wrong end of an upset. He coached Virginia Commonwealth before coming to Texas and often led his mid-major to wins over the big boys, even taking the Rams to the Final Four once. This time, the mid-major was celebrating on the other bench.
Smart still was proud of his team.
"It’s a really, really tough one to take, but, again, you’ve got to give Northern Iowa credit," he said. "Coach (Ben) Jacobson does a phenomenal job, and they deserved to win."
Texas’ Prince Ibeh, a 41.5-per cent free throw shooter for the season, made the first of two to put the Longhorns ahead 70-69 with 45.1 seconds remaining.
Klint Carlson scored for Northern Iowa to put the Panthers up 71-70, then Taylor missed a driving layup, and Northern Iowa rebounded. Washpun was fouled with 11.9 seconds to play. He made one of two free throws to make it 72-70, then Taylor tied the game to set up Jesperson’s shot.
"This is what it’s all about," Jesperson said. "When you start the season, this is what your end goal should be. This is where every team wants to be. We’re happy to be here. It’s a crazy feeling, though. I’m glad the shot went in. I’m glad we live to see another day."
Former Northern Iowa quarterback Kurt Warner, a Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams and a two time NFL MVP, attended the game.
Warner: "These guys continued to believe and fought their way down the stretch and all the crazy things that went and bounces that didn’t go their direction. But it’s a team that believes in who they are and what they are as a team and you saw that just continue to come through tonight."
Northern Iowa outscored Texas 25-13 at the free-throw line. … Texas ran out to a 7-0 lead.
Northern Iowa: Panthers were 10-11 after losing to Illinois State on Jan. 23. They followed that by going 12-1 and winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. … The Panthers improved to 3-0 in NCAA Tournament games played in Oklahoma City.
Texas: Cameron Ridley, who missed more than half the season with a broken foot, played five minutes and scored two points. … Oklahoma, Texas’ primary rival, played at the arena earlier in the day. Oklahoma’s campus is about a half hour’s drive south of the arena, and their fans who stuck around jeered Texas during pregame introductions.
Northern Iowa plays Texas A&M on Sunday.
Texas’ season is over.