UNI Men Win Regular-Season MVC Championship in OT Thriller
For the second time in three years, the UNI Panther men are Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champions.
In what was a knock-down, drag-out fight from tip to the final horn, UNI not only defeated one of the best teams on their schedule but one of the best teams in the country, the Loyola Ramblers, 102-96 in overtime. The Ramblers sure didn't make it easy, either.
"What an unbelievable game," Head Coach Ben Jacobson said after the win. "Both teams just kept making plays. ... (Our older players) have played against the guys at Loyola for a long time. They know each other so well."
Lucas Williamson and Braden Norris combined for 42 points, 17 rebounds, and ten assists to lead the effort for the Ramblers.
Because of players like Williamson and Norris, the Ramblers have won 20+ regular-season games the previous five years and won the MVC regular-season title in three of those years. Not only that, UNI is just 2-8 against the Ramblers in their last ten matchups, and for the Panthers, that made the victory all the sweeter.
The Panthers knew they'd have to do all they could to prepare to beat a quality program like Loyola.
"The work always pays off," AJ Green said. "If you put in the time like all of our guys did and do everything you can to be prepared for these moments, it always pays off."
Green, the 2019-2020 Larry Bird Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, finished with 32 points to lead all scorers. Noah Carter put up 24 -- 19 of which came in the first half when Green was in foul trouble -- and Bowen Born added 20 for the Panthers.
The Cedar Falls native hit the shot that would send the contest to overtime in this and-one pull up with less than 28 seconds to go:
The winning effort was backed by a sold-out McLeod Center.
"(The seats) have been that full before," Jacobson said. "But that's the loudest it's been in a long time."
"When Bowen hit that late three, I think that's the loudest I've ever heard it," added red-shirt junior Austin Phyfe.
Take a listen for yourself:
Though McLeod was raucous, the Panthers are happy with their championship, and they get the No. 1 seed in the MVC Tournament, they're not satisfied.
"It's a great feeling to get another one of these," Green said. "but we want that one down in St. Louis."
The Panthers will face off with the winner of the eight-seed vs. nine-seed game between Indiana State and Illinois State next week. Their game is scheduled for noon on Friday, March 4.
Should UNI win the conference tournament, they will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which would be their first appearance in March Madness since the 2015-2016 season.