For the second year in a row, highly favored Wichita State has lost in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Tournament. Saturday, Wes Washpun and the Northern Iowa Panthers upset the Shockers in an overtime thriller 57-52.
Washpun scored a game-high 20 points and held all-American Fred VanVleet to just eight. The Panthers (21-12) had allowed Wichita State 10 points before they scored any themselves. Washpun snapped that drought with a three-point basket, and the competition was on.
Defense and making timely shots were the keys to the Panther win. Their stingy defense forced the Shockers (24-8) into 22 misses of their 24 three-point attempts. VanVleet said a significant reason for the Shocker loss was his poor play.
"Anytime I don't play well; we don't normally play well," he said. "I didn't play very well and when I shoot two for nine, we won't win very often."
Northern Iowa trailed the entire game and grabbed the lead (45-43) for the first time with 4:57 left on a driving layup by Washpun. The game was tied at 47 and VanVleet's jumper at the final buzzer was just offline, and the two MVC rivals headed to overtime.
UNI outscored the Shockers 10 to 5 in overtime with junior Jeremy Morgan hitting tie-breaking three-pointers, giving the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish.
Panther Head Coach Ben Jacobson is happy with the win and believes Wichita State belongs in the NCAA tournament.
"What a game," said Jacobson. "That was as good a game as I have been a part of. There were a lot of good players on the floor today. I don't think there is any question that they (Wichita State) deserve to go to the NCAA tournament."
Senior Anton Grady led the Shockers with 14 points and Ron Baker, who scored 25 in the quarterfinals, was held to 12. Baker made just five of 18 shots.
Head Coach Gregg Marshall thought Northern Iowa was 'one play' better than his Shockers.
"That was a great defensive ball game, said Marshall." In a game that was back and forth, they were one play better than we were. I thought Ben's team played really well."
Marshall is hopeful that his team will still be invited to the NCAA tournament, noting that four Shocker losses came in the part of the season when VanVleet was out with a leg injury.