Playing with poise down the stretch and getting another big 3-pointer from Ali Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa pulled off one of the biggest NCAA upsets in years by knocking No. 1 overall seed Kansas from the bracket with a program-defining 69-67 win on Saturday.
Northern Iowa (30-4) won the tempo tug-of-war, grounding the high-flying Jayhawks with in-their-jersey defense, then withstood a furious rally to become the first team to beat a No. 1 seed in the second round since UAB and Alabama did it to Kentucky and Stanford in 2004.
There have been 10 double-digits seeds to pull upsets this year; eight in the first round. No. 10 Saint Mary’s beat Villanova on Saturday, and No. 11 Washington beat New Mexico.
But the ninth-seeded Panthers pulled the shocker of them all.
Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa’s first-round hero, had the biggest play of all, burying a 3-pointer in transition with the shot clock still in the 30s to end a dominating start-to-finish win that sends the Panthers to the round of 16 for the first time. UNI will face the Michigan State-Maryland winner in St. Louis.
Kansas (33-3) fell behind early and never made one of its anticipated runs, bowing out of the tournament with another disappointing NCAA loss to a mid-major. Cole Aldrich had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Marcus Morris added 16 points.
Farokhmanesh, who finished with 16 points, celebrated by jumping into a huddle of teammates to a chant of “U-N-I!” while Jayhawks Morris and redshirt senior Mario Little crumbled to the floor, tears streaming down their faces when they finally rose.
Yes, this was monumental.
Kansas, the storied program with the blue-blood pedigree, went down for the mid-major count like it did to Bradley in 2006 and Bucknell the year before.
Kansas sneaked by Lehigh in the first round, using a spirit-crushing run to turn a scare into a 16-point win.
Northern Iowa had a fight all the way through its three-point win over UNLV in the opener, breaking a 20-year NCAA winless drought on Farokhmanesh’s 25-footer with 4.9 seconds left.
This game was like opposite poles of two magnets; One of the nation’s highest-scoring teams against Northern Iowa’s stuck-in-the-mud mentality.
The Panthers faced the tougher task.
They had never played a No. 1-ranked team and no one from their conference had beaten one since 1962. UNI also seemed to be overmatched against KU’s lineup of pros-in-waiting. When asked if any of their players could start for Kansas, Farokhmanesh and Adam Koch gave an uncomfortable laugh.
The thing about the Panthers is they know defensive positioning as well as any team in the country, moving in a symphonic dance of denial. Northern Iowa has become the most consistent team in its state, too, reaching the NCAA tournament five of the past seven years, good enough that Kansas coach Bill Self said there’s no way Cinderella’s shoe fits anymore.
He was right.
UNI went right at the Jayhawks, opening with a 10-2 run that had Self burning an early timeout against a mid-major for the second straight game.
The Panthers kept attacking, leading all but 56 seconds of the first half, by as much as eight. Farokhmanesh was at his quick-shooting best, hitting all four of his shots — three 3s — for 11 points to put UNI in the upset position, up 36-28 at halftime.
The Panthers kept it up.
Northern Iowa kept forcing Kansas into mistakes, didn’t stop making shots and built the lead to 47-35 with 12
That’s when Kansas starting inching back.
Turning up their defensive pressure, the Jayhawks clipped the lead down to 56-53 with just 4
The Panthers didn’t blink, answering every challenge for the monster upset.