Northern Iowa wins on dramatic buzzer beater

SONG SELECTION:

“This Is Our Time”, by The School of Seven Bells

Found on their final ever album, SVIIB

Released February 26, 2016 via the Vagrant Records label.

Sunday’s action saw some fantastic finishes, but none bigger than Northern Iowa repeating as Missouri Valley Conference champions.

It was like a tale of two different halves

Most of the country did not see the first 3 minutes due to the game between SMU at Cincinnati taking longer to finish.  By the time CBS Sports switched their cameras to St. Louis and the Scottrade Center, both Northern Iowa (2 of 9) and Evansville (2 of 10) had started out shooting ice cold from the floor.

A 19-4 Panthers run over a 7 1/2 minute stretch gave UNI a commanding 26-9 lead with 5:53 left in the first half.  Although Evansville trailed 32-18, the Purple Aces did manage to make a run in the opening minutes of the second half.

Jeremy Morgan and Jaylon Brown each drilled a three-point basket over three minutes apart to cut Northern Iowa’s lead to nine at 38-29.  Then D.J. Balentine came up with a three of his own to cut the deficit to eight at 40-32 with 12:30 left to play in regulation time.

From then on, UNI was clinging for survival.  But somehow, Evansville caught up and managed to take a one-point lead twice in the closing minutes.  First, it was Balentine making a layup with 3:41 left to play as the Purple Aces led 48-47.  A couple of wide open jumpers on the next time down the floor gave eventual Tournament MVP Wes Washpun to convert the first of three final jump shots.  UNI led again 49-48 before Evansville answered once more on another Balentine layup.  Jeremy Morgan then canned another three pointer as UNI went back in front 52-50.

The final minute was anticlimactic.  Wes Washpun hit a jumper to give the Panthers a 54-52 lead with 52 seconds left.  Jaylon Brown and D.J. Balentine missed badly on consecutive three-point shots that would have given Evansville the lead again, but Balentine made a very sweet layup over and around two Panthers defenders to tie the score once more at 54 apiece.

Northern Iowa melted down the final 20 seconds and Washpun dribbled the ball a few times, managed to squeeze himself inside the line and sent a 18 foot prayer that hit heavy off the back of the rim and eventually went through the basket as the buzzer sounded.   A wild celebration on the near right side of the press table shortly ensued as Northern Iowa clinched its’ second consecutive and fourth NCAA appearance in the last eight years.

Northern Iowa finished the game shooting nearly 45 percent from the floor (21 of 47 attempts), while Evansville was trying to reach its’ first trip to the Big Dance since 199 and only finished 20 of 54 for 37 percent.

Florida Gulf Coast survives in overtime, and UNC Asheville also punch their tickets

In the Big South final, the fourth seed of UNC Asheville sent Winthrop home early 77-68 to earn their first NCAA berth since 2012.  UNCA was led in scoring by Dwayne Sutton’s 25 points and 18 rebounds.

At the Atlantic Sun final, it could have been a very odd situation if Stetson won on Florida Gulf Coast’s home court.  With Stetson currently in APR hot water with the NCAA, the regular season champions from North Florida would have qualified for the Big Dance.  But in the end, thanks to Zach Johnson’s driving layup and thunderous block in the closing seconds, the Eagles are returning to the Big Dance since the original “Dunk City” crew went to the Sweet 16 in 2013 after an exciting 80-78 overtime decision in Fort Myers, Florida.

FGCU earned their right to play in the final game after whipping the top seed in North Florida on Thursday 89-56.  But give some small credit to Stetson for not quitting, even after scoring the game’s first 10 points on Sunday night.  And this is another great story for Zach Johnson, who had to sit out all of last season due to medical issues.  But after making some nifty moves in the lane as part of his 19 points, Florida Gulf Coast as Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio fame says to kick off each morning broadcast with Mike Golic, “are back and better than ever.”

Three more conferences will decide champions on Monday night, and another pair of tournaments will kick off in the MAC and the MEAC.  That information will all be included in the first of my two blogs shortly before Peyton Manning gives to the world his retirement press conference after performing on a legendary 18 year NFL career where he rewrote most of the league’s passing records in Indianapolis and Denver.

 

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