Introducing MEMORY LANE.
With March Madness canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ll be reliving some legendary tournament moments on the days when NCAA basketball would’ve been played. Enjoy.
Twelve minutes into the Round of 32, Ali Farokhmanesh hadn’t taken a shot. Just one game after scoring 17 points and nailing the game-winner against first round opponent UNLV, Farokhmanesh was being shut down by Kansas. It was expected. The tournament’s overall No. 1 seed should have no trouble with the no name, No. 9-seeded Northern Iowa—a program that, in 2010, was making its second Round of 32 appearance in 30 seasons.
Still, even without production from Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa was somehow winning. But it didn’t look like it would last for long. Eight minutes were left in the first half and Northern Iowa’s lead, 19-16, was quickly slipping.
It was time to get Farokhmanesh involved. An elevator play was designed for the 6-0, 190-pound guard. He caught the ball on the wing, hesitated for a second, and then slipped around a ball screen. He was searching for just an inch of space. Kansas’ Tyrel Reed wasn’t fooled. He pinned himself to Farokhmanesh. The thing is, Farokhmanesh didn’t care where Reed was. He jumped high into the air, two steps behind the line and a ripe 20 seconds left on the shot clock. The jumper couldn’t have been more of a swish. Kansas’ 9-2 run came to a halt.
“If you think he’s out of his range, you’re wrong…I don’t know if he can back up far enough to be out of range,” color commentator Dan Bonner said.
“His range is Tulsa,” Kevin Harlan, the play-by-player announcer, responded from his seat in Oklahoma City.
Then Farokhmanesh hit another. This time, three steps behind the line. And another. Throw in a two-pointer. The Panthers led 36-28 at the half. Everything was going right. Farokhmanesh had 11 points at halftime and hadn’t missed a shot. Their 7-1 center, Jordan Eglseder, who had made just one three-pointer all season, had already made two in the first half. All without Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, Adam Koch, scoring a point.
This Northern Iowa team had pulled off upsets before. Earlier in the season, they had beaten Iowa and Iowa State en-route to a 29-4 record. They held offenses to just 55.1 points per game, second best in the nation.
But 33-2 Kansas was a different beast. They were the perfect combination of controlled veterans and flashy recruits. Bill Self has since described then senior Sherron Collins as the “best basketball player he has recruited.” Junior big man Cole Aldrich was a two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Sophomore forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris were Philly tough. Freshman wing Xavier Henry was long, smooth, and the No. 6 high school recruit in the country. They knew how to play in March, too. The Jayhawks were just two years removed from a national championship.
Despite trailing by 12 at one point in the second half, Kansas grinded its way back into the game, overwhelming Northern Iowa with a press and holding Farokhmanesh scoreless for over 20 minutes. With 42 seconds left in the game, Northern Iowa had possession, but led by just one point.
Again, the Kansas press worked. Northern Iowa scrambled to get the ball into the frontcourt. Somehow, barely, they did. It was Farokhmanesh who caught the ball in transition, two-on-one, standing a few inches behind the three-point line. Wide open. Thirty-one seconds left on the shot clock. He paused for a split second. Should he drive? Wait for a less rushed shot? He let the ball go.
Nothing but net. Literally, nothing but net. The shot sealed one of the greatest upsets in recent NCAA history. Northern Iowa had beaten Kansas.
It’s crazy to think that, two years earlier, Farokhmanesh wasn’t even at Northern Iowa—he was playing community college ball. Or that in the four games leading up to the NCAA Tournament, he had averaged just 5.8 points. It didn’t matter. In March Madness, everyone starts from scratch.
For that one weekend, Farokhmanesh had the range of Stephen Curry. The ice of D’Angelo Russell. The unconscious gunner mentality of J.R. Smith. The jump shot of JJ Reddick. For that one weekend, Ali Farokhmanesh was the best player in the world.
Benjamin Simon is a contributor to SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminSimon05.
Photo via Getty.