Gritty Northern Iowa stuns mighty Kansas
OKLAHOMA CITY — Leading by 1 against the colossus of the bracket, Ali Farokhmanesh stood at the 3-point line, no one around. The prudent play? Pull it outside, burn some clock.
Not a chance.
Taking his shot at history, Farokhmanesh let fly from the wing.
The biggest upset in a tournament full of them was done. Northern Iowa had taken down mighty Kansas.
Playing with poise down the stretch and getting another big 3-pointer from 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 last night.
“If anybody’s going to shoot that shot, I want it to be Ali,’’ Northern Iowa’s Jake Koch said.
This year’s NCAA Tournament has been defined by its upsets. Eight double-digit seeds moved through the bracket in the first round. No. 10 Saint Mary’s beat Villanova yesterday and No. 11 Washington shoved aside New Mexico.
This was the biggest shocker of all.
Winning the tempo tug-of-war, ninth-seeded Northern Iowa (30-4) grounded 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.
Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa’s first-round hero, had the biggest play of all.
With Kansas charging and its fans roaring, the fearless son of an Iranian Olympic volleyball player caught the ball on the wing after the Panthers had broken Kansas’s press. The shot clock still in the 30s, he hesitated for just an instant, then cast his bracket-busting shot with 34 seconds left on the game clock.
Trailing, 66-62, Kansas had one last chance, but Tyrel Reed was called for an offensive foul and Farokhmanesh sealed it with two free throws with 5 seconds left, sending the Panthers to the round of 16 for the first time.
Next up is the winner of today’s Michigan State-Maryland game — and another chance at history.
“This team has done such a great job of turning the page to what’s next, and this would be the biggest challenge of the year,’’ Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “A lot of positive things have happened because of the way these guys played.
Kansas (33-3) fell behind early and came up just short on one of its anticipated runs, ending a season that started with national-title aspirations with another disappointing NCAA loss to a mid-major.
The Jayhawks trailed by as many as 12 points and used defense to pull within 1 with 44 seconds left. But they let Farokhmanesh sneak behind them for the deciding 3-pointer to go down for the mid-major count like they did to Bradley in 2006 and Bucknell the year before, also in Oklahoma City.
Cole Aldrich had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Marcus Morris added 16 points and Sherron Collins ended his stellar KU career with 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
“Obviously, everybody is disappointed on our team,’’ Aldrich said. “To work so hard and to go through so much adversity. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t have let Sherron go out in a better way.’’
The postgame celebration told the story.
Farokhmanesh, who finished with 16 points, jumped into a huddle of teammates, and Jake Koch embraced older brother Adam to a chant of “U-N-I!’’ At the other end, Jayhawks Morris and redshirt senior Mario Little crumbled to the floor, tears streaming down their faces.
Yes, this was monumental.
“We never doubted we could play with them at all,’’ Adam Koch said.