There was plenty of madness under the arch in this year’s Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championship. Wes Washpun hit a game-winning jumper as time expired to beat No. 2 Evansville 56-54. The win gave No. 4 Northern Iowa the MVC championship for the second straight season and sent the Panthers to the NCAA tournament.
In the first half, the Panthers didn’t look like they would need a buzzer-beater to take home the Arch Madness title. After finishing the regular season with the MVC’s best scoring offense, the Evansville couldn’t hit a shot in the first half. The Purple Aces shot 23 percent from the field and only scored 18 points.
Meanwhile, UNI’s Klint Carlson was on fire heading into the locker rooms. He dropped 13 points in the opening period on six-of-seven shooting.
Carlson only scored four points in the second half, but he said when he saw Washpun’s shot drop in, he only had one thought.
“Once it [went it], I turned around to find Wes, chase him down, and hopefully tackle him to the ground,” said Carlson.
It was a tale of two halves in the Arch Madness finale. Before the celebration that ensued, Evansville overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to take the lead with just over two minutes left. Purple Aces guard DJ Balentine finished the game with 20 points and led the Evansville comeback with 15 second-half points, including two clutch shots late in regulation.
Evansville’s Jaylon Brown added 16 second-half points, and he said the Purple Aces gave it their all in the comeback attempt.
“We just knew we had to start hitting shots and executing on defense early,” said Brown. “We gave them a lead in the first half, and we knew we had to fight back. So it was all about just working hard and playing hard to the first time-out.”
Evansville fought back, but its second half effort wasn’t enough. Forward Egidiju Mockevicius, the nation’s leading rebounder and leader in double-doubles, grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds but only scored one point in the second half. He finished with six points on only four total shots.
With the win, Northern Iowa moves on to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and the third time since 2010, when the Panthers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.