Wes Washpun had plenty of amazing moments in leading Northern Iowa over the #1 team in the nation. Jeremy Morgan's steal with nine seconds left to ice the game may be the moment that Panthers fans remember ten years from now.
Down by three with the shot clock turned off, North Carolina missed the first shot beyond the arc, but got the rebound. Desperately looking to tie the game, UNC's Joel Berry tried to pass across the court to find the open man. Morgan saw the pass all the way and intercepted it, wrapped up the ball, and was fouled to try and end it. He hit the first free throw, and that was the game.
It was an upset to put UNI back into the national spotlight in a season where Wichita State's primary competition was presumed to be Evansville. But don't call it a comeback. Northern Iowa took the lead with a three point shot by Matt Bohannon with 7:36 left in the game, and as close as the Tar Heels kept it, UNI never relinquished the lead from that point on.
But while on the topic of memorable moments, Washpun still has to be the man of the hour. Northern Iowa was down 41-29 just seconds before the close of the first half. Then this happened:
With a ten point deficit, the Panthers captured the momentum. After a small back-and-forth that saw UNI fall to 13 point deficit out of half time, the Panthers stormed back with a barrage of threes. Washpun, who had carried his team to that point, made a series of three assists: A three by Bohannon. A three by Paul Jesperson. Another three by Jesperson. A few minutes later, another Washpun assist - this time for a three point shot by the aforementioned Jeremy Morgan.
In addition to his team leading 21 points, Washpun racked up four of his eight assists in those three minutes, and all of a sudden the game was only 52-48.
For the next four minutes the Northern Iowa defense held the Tar Heels without a point and the gap was closed. The Tar Heels would recapture the lead temporarily, but fail to retain it because of Matt Bohannon.
The winning strategy for the Panthers in the second half was rather simple: Wes Washpun would penetrate, and if the lane was open he would make the shot. If he noticed an open man outside the arc he would dish it to them. On defense the Panthers had to find a way to limit UNC's Justin Jackson, who had dominated the Panthers in all aspects of the game to that point. Although Jackson would get his buckets and finish as the game's leading scorer at 25 points, he had a pair of turnovers and some untimely missed shots in the second half.
As the game came to a close, Jackson became a non-factor and his teammates couldn't step up, exposing what was a surprisingly one dimensional offensive strategy for the Tar Heels: Feed it to Jackson. Although they had ten points a piece, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson had relatively lackluster performances.
Alternatively for UNI, Jesperson had 14 and Bohannon had 19 to accompany Washpun, creating a balanced attack by the Panthers.
The Tar Heels were missing senior guard Marcus Paige from nearby Marion, IA. Without their field general, it was apparent that the Tar Heels were not at full strength.
Northern Iowa's next game is on Nov. 25 against the D-III Dubuque Spartans before they go on the road to face the University of North Dakota on the 28th.