Twenty years after winning their first NCAA Tournament game on a late three pointer the U.N.I. Panthers did it again with a 69-66 victory over U.N.L.V. in the opening round of the Midwest Regional in Oklahoma City.
Ali Farokhmanesh drilled a three pointer with 4.9 seconds remaining to earn a hard fought victory. The Panthers rallied from an eight point deficit in the opening half and eventually led 58-49 in the second half before the Runnin’ Rebels roared back to tie the game in the final minute.
That set the stage for Farokhmanesh as the Panthers snapped a string of four straight first round losses. He says it felt good all the way through as he says Johnny Moran made a great ball fake to get him open and then made a great pass. Farokhmanesh says hitting the game winner is something you live for when you have played basketball this long. He says once the ball came to him, he was going to shoot it no matter what.
Farokhmanesh finished with a game-high 17 points, including five of nine from three point range.
U.N.I. coach Ben Jacobson says Farokmanesh hit big shots throughout the game and once they got settled in they played well. He had been concerned about a lengthy layoff since the end of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Jacobson says the experience is more important than the 10 day layoff. He says UNLV just got done playing, so they were in rhythm, but he says the experience of his team was important.
The Panthers improve to 29-4 and advance to Saturday’s second round, Jacobson says it’s like the conference tournament in some ways, as you have one day off and come back. He says when they play their game, they are pretty good.
The Panthers will play top ranked Kansas. The Jayhawks beat Lehigh 90-74.