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Missouri Valley Finals Recap

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Missouri Valley Conference Finals Recap

Recap by Neal Heston

(2) UNI 79, (5) Southwest Missouri State 74 (2 OT)
During the first ever championship game in the MVC Tournament to go into two overtimes, UNI held on to defeat the SMS Bears, 79-74. The win sends UNI to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990.

The Panthers nearly got a taste of their own medicine. After rallying from a 14-point deficit against Wichita State just to reach the championship game, UNI let a 14-point lead of its own vanish midway through the second half.

“We didn’t put our heads down when they had the momentum,” UNI sophomore guard Ben Jacobson said. “We just stuck with it and made the big plays down the stretch.”

Jacobson, selected as the tournament’s most outstanding player, scored a career-high 26 points to lead the Panthers to victory. This performance came one day after a 23-point performance last night to carry UNI past Wichita State.

UNI looked ready to punch its ticket to the dance midway through the second half after Matt Schneiderman connected for a trey to put the Panthers up 44-30. The game would start to get interesting from there though as the Panthers hit just one more field goal in regulation. A free throw by SMS’s Merrill Andrews capped a 21-7 run by the Bears to end the half and force overtime.

The Panthers came out in the first overtime and looked poised to finally put away the Bears. SMS freshman Blake Ahearn had a different idea though as he nailed a trey from NBA range to bring the Bears within one point. Pete Schmit could only convert one of two free throws on the Panther’s side, allowing Merrill Andrews to send the game into a second overtime with his lay-in.

Ahearn finally gave the Bears their first lead of the game to begin the second overtime. Mr. Automatic from the free throw line connected on both free throws after getting fouled on the tip-off. UNI followed with a three by Jacobson and two free throws from David Gruber to take the lead for good and seal an NCAA berth.

“I’m not sure I can put into words what this means to me,” UNI head coach Greg McDermott said. “These guys didn’t quit. They just continued to believe.”

UNI heads into the NCAA Tournament in the right direction. The Panthers are on an eight-game winning streak, the program’s longest streak since 1965-66 when legendary coach Norm Stewart was at the helm.

In just his third year as head coach of the Panthers, McDermott is taking the Panthers to places they have never been: an NCAA Tournament appearance for just the second time ever, a 20-win season for the first time since 1990, UNI’s highest finish ever in the regular season standings, and a first-ever MVC Tournament championship.

“I said in my news conference when I was hired at UNI that it was a dream come true that it was a dream come true to coach at my alma mater and then take them to a league championship,” McDermott said. “I guess that day is today.”

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