With a minute and 20 seconds left, Northern Iowa Panthers forward Adam Koch loomed over a helpless Sherron Collins, snatched an offensive rebound as the Kansas Jayhawks guard fell to the floor, dribbled to the rim, and slammed a thunderous jam that could be heard in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The Panthers were ahead by seven, 63-56. Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed in the wild NCAA Tournament, was in a world of hurt.
Then, Northern Iowa became flustered. They used their second-to-last timeout at the 3:38 mark and didn’t want to use their last too early.
The Jayhawks, after hitting a layup to cut the margin to four, played aggressive defense, making it nearly impossible for the Panthers to inbound the ball successfully.
Northern Iowa committed two turnovers on botched out-of-bounds plays. First, Johnny Moran ’s lob pass in the backcourt was stolen, and then, trying to break Kansas’s press, guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe stepped on the end-line.
As a result, the Jayhawks scored four points, trimming the deficit to just one.
Having never led, that was the closest they had been since the score was 3-2. Ali Farokhmanesh made sure Kansas would get no closer.
This time, Northern Iowa inbounded the ball successfully. Jake Koch passed the ball in to Brother Koch. Adam then made a dangerous cross-court pass to Ahelegbe, who managed to corral the feed and fire upcourt to Farokmanesh.
Farokmanesh, a 6-foot senior guard and Iowa native, entered the Panthers ensuing possession having not scored in the second half, missing six straight shots.
He was due, and, unexpectedly, didn’t waste anytime etching his name into the second half scoring book. But his shot that followed did much more than that.
It was a shot that etched his name into March Madness lore. It was a shot that made his career. It was a shot that stunned the college basketball world, not just their opponent.
It was a “Why not?” shot by the ballsy 22-year-old.
And it was a shot that, if missed, could have squandered the underdog’s dreams–memorable for all the wrong reasons, nightmarish, sickening.
Waiting at the three-point line, he took in Ahelegbe’s pass. He stood there for a second, staring at the basket with a wide-open lane in front of him, and launched a three, possessing the smoothest and most confident stroke.
It swished through . Northern Iowa’s bench erupted. His teammates on the floor pumped their fists.
Announcers Kevin Harlan and Dan Bonner both yelped “Good!!” It gave the Panthers a four-point lead. It was stunning and gutsy magic .
Jayhawks forward Tyrel Reed was called for an offensive foul nine seconds later on a driving attempt, ending their chances with 26 seconds remaining. Kansas was history.
Northern Iowa made history. They officially shattered everyone’s brackets. And they, like many high seeds, will be heading to the Sweet 16, thanks to the confident swish from Farokmanesh, who had ice water in his veins at the memorable 37-second mark.
Earlier in the day, No. 10-seeded St. Mary’s pulled off an upset, though not of Northern Iowa’s magnitude, from the three-point line, too.
Gaels center Omar Samhan , who had 29 points in their opening-round win over Richmond, dominated the Villanova Wildcats soft interior defense for 33 points on 13-of-16 shooting.
When the ball was in his hands, good things happened. When the ball wasn’t in his hands, nerves ran through this fan of Patty Mills' former team. But the nerves didn’t translate into negative play by one of the Western Coast Conference’s best.
He used a screen set by Samhan, dribbled to a spot a solid four feet beyond the three-point line, crossed over a backpedaling Reggie Redding and hoisted. The shot kissed off the glass, which wasn’t his intention, and shot through the nylon.
This sent announcer Verne Lunquist into a “No, no, no!” exclamation, summing up the luck involved.
His partner in the booth, the ever-entertaining Bill Raftery, who would have used his trademark “Onions!” phrase to describe Farokmanesh’s shot, referred to McConnell’s prayer a “Hail Mary.”
Plenty of time remained for Villanova, but this shot took it out of them. Redding drove to the hoop, but his shot was sent back by Samhan, capping his memorable game.
The Wildcats immediately gave a bone-headed foul, sending McConnell to the line for two free-throws, which he made to put the icing on the cake for St. Mary’s.
Confidence by Farokmanesh and a little luck by the Aussie put the Panthers and Gaels in the Sweet 16. Something tells me their roads won’t stop there.