Wes Washpun finished with 28 points, 11 assists and seven boards and Paul Jespers0n added 21 points — all on three-pointers — as Northern Iowa shocked No. 5 Iowa State, 81-79, on Saturday night.
It’s the second win of the year for the Panthers over a top five team. Back in November, they upset then-No. 1 North Carolina in Cedar Falls, which is odd considering that the rest of their non-conference schedule has been oddly underwhelming. They lost at home to a Colorado State team that isn’t one of Larry Eustachy’s best and dropped roadies to Richmond and New Mexico by an average of 17 points.
This win does, however, put Northern Iowa in a position where they can theoretically earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament come March. The Missouri Valley is never an easy conference to run through, but with a pair of marquee wins already on their résumé, they are in a much better position than any other mid-major program.
Speaking of mid-majors, Wichita State is probably just as thrilled as UNI to see them land this win. With their loss to Seton Hall earlier today, the Shockers are not in an ideal position when it comes to their at-large standing, but the work the Panthers have done in the non-conference will make them be a potential quality win in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee.
As far as what actually happened during the game, Iowa State’s defense simply failed them again. Washpun was able to get into the lane at will, and that, in turn, created open looks for the myriad of shooters that Ben Jacobsen has at his disposal. Jesperson was the primary beneficiary, finishing with seven triples of his own, but as a team, UNI shot 13-for-22 from beyond the arc.
And if we’re being honest, Northern Iowa did hit quite a few tough, contested threes, particularly in the second half. But by then, UNI’s shooters had confidence. They were in rhythm, and good shooters can make tough jumpers when they’re in rhythm and confident. Much like they did against Iowa, the Cyclones didn’t really pick up the defensive intensity until the second half of the game.
Iowa State has one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks. Georges Niang, who finished with 30 points on Saturday, and Monte’ Morris are two of the best creators in all of college basketball. But they need to be a more consistent team defensively if they are going to compete with Kansas and Oklahoma for a Big 12 title, but with Naz Long’s injury limiting Steve Prohm to a seven-man rotation, I’m not sure they have the bodies to do it.