Ari Farokhmanesh and the No. 9-seeded Panthers delivered the biggest upset of a 2010 NCAA tournament already filled with first-weekend shockers by rocking Kansas 69-67 Saturday.
Leading by one with 36 seconds remaining, Farokhmanesh drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing with 36 seconds remaining and then sealed the game by dropping in two free throws with 4.8 seconds remaining.
In Thursday's opening round 69-66 win against UNLV, Farokhmanesh (pronounced Fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH) hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds remaining.
"I was open on the corner again [like against UNLV] and they kind of stepped back," said Farokhmanesh, who fired away despite having missed his previous seven shots. "I just shot it. It was actually an out of body experience. I don't remember it going in. I just remember seeing it go through the net and that was it."
And that was it for the Jayhawks.
The No. 1 ranked Jayhawks (33-3) were the NCAA tournament's No. 1 seed and picked by none other than Obama to win the entire tournament, but they were no match for the unheralded Panthers.
"Let me get this saying right: hard works beats talent only when talent doesn't work hard," UNI's Lucas O'Rear said. "You can have all the talent in the world, but we got guys that can shoot. But when you work hard, good things happen."
Farokhmanesh – or Prince Ali as UNI's students refer to him – finished with 16 points and his second game-clinching 3-point in as many games. He's about to become a household name in March like a Bryce Drew or Stephen Curry – if anyone could pronounce his name.
Despite his sudden fame, his mother, Cindy Fredrick, said her son will stay grounded.
"He's so calm, very unassuming," Fredrick said. "He's never had a cocky bone in his body."
Farokhmanesh's father, Mashallah Farokhmanesh, was an an Iranian immigrant. He came to the United States in 1978 to learn English. He never left.
Ali Farokhmanesh was born in Utah, lived most of life in Washington until his parents, who were college volleyball coaches, moved to Iowa after his sophomore year in high school.
"He was not very happy," Fredrick said.
Farokhmanesh played at Iowa City West High School and then at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City. He was so impressive he had exactly two scholarship offers – Northern Iowa and Saint Louis.
"I was devastated for him," Fredrick said.
Devastated also was a pretty good description for Jayhawks Nation. When the game ended, sophomore Marcus Morris fell to his knees sobbing for several minutes as a couple of teammates tried to get him off the Ford Center floor.
Kansas coach Bill Self called the loss the most painful he's experienced.
"You operate under duress, you operate under pressures the whole year that a lot of teams don't operate under because of where we were ranked and [the] expectations," Self said. "And to put ourselves in a position that we were in, they don't come around every year.
"You've got to make the most of those opportunities when you're granted them. That's probably what stings the most."
The rock, chalk Jayhawks may have been the tournament's chalk, but Northern Iowa controlled the game from the outset.
Northern Iowa (30-4) realized right away things were going its way when 7-foot center Jordan Eglseder hit two three-pointers in the opening eight minutes – or only one fewer than he had made in the past two years, while missing 21 of 24 3-point attempts.
"I didn't plan on taking another 3-pointer, but I hit one early," Eglseder said. "I guess this is the time of the year to start making them."
Eglesder said practicing against Farokhmanesh has improved his outside game. "Ali's helping me out, playing H-O-R-S-E with him," said Eglesder, who finished with 14 points and five rebounds in only 18 minutes. "You have to be able to take some long shots."
And these Panthers were the longest of shots against the Jayhawks.
Every player on Northern Iowa's roster is from a 400-mile radius of the Cedar Falls campus. They've got eight players from Iowa, two each from Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and one from Missouri.
America's Team? More like America's Heartland Team.
"I don't know how to describe it," O'Rear said. "There are so many pieces that fit into this big puzzle. We bond as a team as soon as we step on the campus. Most of us are all from pretty small high schools."
The aptly named O'Rear is a load. He's 6-foot-6, 255 pounds and looks more like a bouncer at an Irish pub than a power forward. He's got a shamrock tattoo on his left bicep, a Jackie Moon 'do and pork chop sideburns.
He sets at least three screens on every offensive possession, yet still finished with three points, five rebounds and two steals – or two more than Kansas All-American guard Sherron Collins, who had none.
How's that saying go about talent and hard work?
Minutes after her son's hard work made Northern Iowa the first Missouri Valley regular season champions since Southern Illinois in 2007 to reach the Sweet 16, Fredrick recalled her son as a 10-year old shooting free throws.
"I can still remember," she said. "He would be at the free throw line and I would yelling, 'This is for everything. If you make this we go the NCAAs.' "
If her son missed, they would keep doing it again, until the final shot dropped.
Northern Iowa fans Danny Priest and Zach Elster have seen plenty of Farokhmanesh's shots drop this year. They made a "Prince Ali" sign with Farokhmanesh's picture on it a few weeks ago and brought it to Oklahoma City. They're not putting it away just yet after jarring the Jayhawks.
"When the bracket came out [and Kansas was UNI's second-round opponent], I was furious," said Elster, a senior at UNI. "But now I feel great. I hope Michigan State or Maryland [UNI's next opponent] is ready. They've been warned. Don't leave him open."
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at email@example.com
EDITOR'S NOTE: The NCAA and Northern Iowa incorrectly indicated that Northern Iowa was the first Missouri Valley regular season champion to reach the Sweet 16 since 1979. In fact, NIU was the sixth MVC regular season champion to reach the Sweet 16 since 1979. The others: Wichita State (1981), Tulsa (1994-95), Southern Illinois (2002, 2007).