Northern Iowa Wins MVC Title
St. Louis, MO -- The University of Northern Iowa men's basketball team punched its ticket to the 2009 NCAA Tournament today with a 60-57 overtime victory over Illinois State.
Kwadzo Ahelegbe gave UNI the lead for good with a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left that brought the score to 58-57. After the Panthers came up with a defensive stop, Ali Farokmanesh connected on a pair of free throws with 6.8 seconds left to seal the win for UNI (23-10).
Ahelegbe led the Panthers with 17 points, and Farokmanesh finished with 13. Adam Koch finished with six points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots for the Panthers.
Osiris Eldridge, who was tabbed the tournament MVP, led all scorers with 21 points, all scored in the second half. Champ Oguchi finished with 14 points and Emmanuel Holloway finished with 10 for the Redbirds (24-9).
Ahelegbe sandwiched consecutive threes between a pair of mid-range jumpers to score 10 straight points and give UNI a 12-6 lead with 14 minutes left in the first half.
Champ Oguchi hit a three at 13:45 to cut the Panther lead in half, 12-9. The Panthers outscored ISU 10-3 over the next six minutes to take a 10-point lead, 22-12 with 7:17 left in the half.
Koch gave UNI its largest lead of the period when he knocked down a jumper at 4:15 to bring the score to 27-15. ISU scored the final four points of the half to bring the halftime score to 27-19 in favor of the Panthers.
Coming out of the halftime break, Eglseder extended the UNI lead to 10 with a short jumper. The Redbirds responded with a 9-0 scoring run highlighted by a fast-break dunk from Eldridge along with a long three that cut UNI's lead to 29-28 with 17 minutes to play. Ahelegbe drove into the lane and scored to put the Panthers back up by three with 16:39 remaining. The UNI lead fluctuated between one and three points until Eldridge drained a long three at 10:19 to tie the score, 37-37.
On the ensuing possession, Farokhmanesh hit a three to return the lead to the Panthers, but Eldridge struck right back and hit threes on consecutive trips to give ISU its first lead of the second half, 43-40 with 7:58 on the clock. Koch hit a pair of free throws to cut the Panther deficit to one, and Johnny Moran connected on a pair from the stripe to return the lead to UNI, 44-43 with 5:52 on the clock.
Eldridge hit his fifth three of the game to put the Redbirds in the lead by a pair, 46-44, but Travis Brown hit a jumper on UNI's next possession to knot the game at 46-46 with 4:34 left.
Oguchi gave the Redbirds the lead with less than a minute to play, knocking down a pair of free throws with 53 seconds left. Lucas O'Rear answered for UNI with 36 seconds on the clock to tie the game for the fifth time.
ISU held for the last shot, and Eldridge's three-point attempt came up short to send the game into overtime.
Eldridge hit a jumper on the first possession of the extra period to give ISU a quick lead, but Farokhmanesh came off a screen by O'Rear to knock down a three and give the lead to UNI, 51-50.
Oguchi matched the three for the Redbirds to put ISU in front by a pair, and Holloway hit a pair of free throws at 3:15 to make it a two-possession game, 55-51.
Farokhmanesh hit his second three in overtime to cut UNI's deficit to one, 55-54 with three minutes to play. Oguchi and O'Rear traded baskets to keep the ISU lead at one, 57-56 with 53 seconds remaining. Oguchi missed a layup with 23 seconds left, and Koch grabbed the defensive rebound. ISU fouled Ahelegbe, and the sophomore made both tries to put UNI in the lead, 58-56.
UNI knocked the ball loose, and Brown tied up the ball with Lloyd Phillips. The jump ball favored UNI, giving the Panthers the ball with 6.8 seconds left.
ISU sent Farokhmanesh to the line, and he made both attempts to put the Panthers in front by three, 60-57.
Eldridge got off the final shot for the Redbirds, but it did not fall, saving the win for the Panthers. UNI shot 20-of-46 (43.5 percent) from the floor, including 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) from behind the arc. The Panthers made 14-of-17 (82.4 percent) free-throw attempts.
ISU finished 19-of-63 (30.2 percent) from the floor, including 10-of-35 (28.6 percent) from long range. The Redbirds were 9-of-11 (81.8 percent) from the charity stripe.
The victory puts UNI in to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time since 2004. The Panthers will find out their seed and opponent on Sunday, March 15.
All Tournament Team
Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State (Most Outstanding Player)
Kwadzo Ahelegbe, UNI
Adam Koch, UNI
Champ Oguchi, Illinois State
Booker Woodfox, Creighton