Paul Jesperson joins UNI icons with half-court buzzer-beater
OKLAHOMA CITY — Move over, Ali Farokhmanesh.
You too, Maurice Newby. Another Northern Iowa basketball player hit an NCAA Tournament shot for the ages Friday night.
This was Paul Jesperson’s shining moment, banking in an attempt from midcourt as the buzzer sounded, lifting the 11th-seeded Panthers to a stunning 75-72 upset of No. 6 seed Texas.
“When it left my hand, I felt like it had a chance,” Jesperson said. “But obviously, you never know.”
Maybe, we should have at least had an indication how things might turn out.
Farokhmanesh made two dramatic 3-pointers — against UNLV and top-ranked Kansas — during the Panthers' run to the Sweet 16 in 2010, also in Oklahoma City.
Newby delivered the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history with his jumper from the left wing in 1990, beating Missouri.
Jesperson’s half-court heave was the most improbable of all.
“We used to mess around before practice a little bit and shoot those,” he said, “But I don’t think we’ve shot one of those (in a game) this year.”
Jesperson, who finished with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting, didn’t have much choice when the Longhorns’ Isaiah Taylor evened the score at 72-72 on a layup with 2.7 seconds remaining.
Matt Bohannon gathered up the ball and inbounded it to Jesperson. Jesperson caught the pass, dribbled around a defender and launched a shot that landed him alongside Farokhmanesh and Newby in Northern Iowa lore.
“We work extremely hard so that our guys, when it comes time to play, they play with all the confidence in the world,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. “What that had to do with the last shot tonight… I mean, that’s lucky.”
Fortunate for the Panthers (23-12). Heartbreaking for Texas (20-13).
“It’s March Madness,” Taylor said. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen this time of year.”
Texas senior guard Javan Felix choked back tears.
“We were confident the whole game,” he said. “Once Isaiah made that shot (to tie), we were still confident.”
The Panthers made Texas look silly during a 7:05 stretch of the first half, putting together a 23-2 run and building a 27-13 lead.
“I don’t know that we could have played a whole lot better,” Jacobson said. “Then, the second half, we just had to fight.”
Texas went ahead 49-47 on Eric Davis’ 3-pointer from the right wing. Davis followed with an assist to Kerwin Roach, giving the Longhorns all the momentum and a 51-47 advantage with 13:16 left.
There would be a total of seven lead changes and eight ties.
Jacobson thought about calling a timeout on Northern Iowa’s last possession. Instead, he watched Bohannon make a critical read.
“I just saw Paul, and saw him have a little bit of space,” Bohannon said. “I just wanted to get it to him, because I knew he had a pretty good chance to get a shot off.”
Texas coach Shaka Smart lamented the fact Jesperson got an open look, but said his players were afraid of fouling.
The Panthers have now won consecutive games on buzzer-beaters.
Wes Washpun made the jumper to beat Evansville in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament final two weeks ago.
Is there another NCAA Division I program that has a more impressive list of heart-stopping shots?
“I couldn’t be happier for (Jesperson),” Washpun said. “He deserves every moment of this.
“He puts in an incredible amount of time to his craft, and he deserves this moment.”