The Northern Iowa Panthers took down the Texas Longhorns with a dramatic half court buzzer beater on Friday, giving us a March Madness moment that lasts forever. But it was never a given that this resilient bunch from Cedar Falls, Iowa would be here. After a couple of huge early season wins over the likes of North Carolina and Iowa State, the Panthers hit a rough patch, losing 6 of their first 8 conference games and at one point going 18 days between wins during the season. They were underachieving and seemed destined to finish the season falling short of expectations.
But behind the selfless leadership of senior guards Wes Washpun, Matt Bohannon, and Paul Jesperson, they refused to let their final season of college basketball slip away. And so after a loss to Illinois State dropped them to 10-11, their three veteran leaders made a vow that the losing would be a thing of the past and that they'd go on to make the NCAA Tournament. They won 9 of their final 10 regular season games, sending them to the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with plenty of momentum. But they'd still need to win the MVC tourney to achieve their goal. After beating Southern Illinois, the Panthers shocked Wichita State, winning 57-52 despite entering the game as 9-point underdogs.
That set up the game against Evansville for all the marbles. In a game deadlocked at 54 with only a few seconds remaining, Northern Iowa put the ball in Washpun's hands. With the fate of his team riding on his shoulders, Washpun crossed over his defender and coolly sank the tournament-sending shot for the win. These Northern Iowa Panthers scratched and clawed to earn everything -- as Bohannon put it, they "just wanna keep playing basketball as long as they can." Thanks to their remarkable turnaround, they now get that chance.