By Josh Steinharter, Camp Director
Double digit seeds aren’t supposed to win a First Round game in the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. Sometimes they do, but it’s not the norm. So it was even more rare when #11 University of Northern Iowa was winning a Second Round game by 12 points with just 44 seconds left as fans of #3 Texas A&M started heading for the exits. Those folks missed the greatest comeback in college basketball history.
But we’re not going to talk about the team that came back to win. Yes, it was an amazing feat, unlike anything anyone has ever seen in college basketball, let alone the tournament that has come to be known as “March Madness”. Madness indeed as the UNI Panthers watched victory slip from their grasp.
It was just a few weeks ago that the sports world was talking about Cam Newton and his childish behavior and treatment of the press in the aftermath of losing the Super Bowl. His team lost and he sulked, giving one word answers, sitting hunched over with a towel over his head, unable to face defeat with class.
It won’t get nearly as much attention, but the other end of the spectrum was on display on a few Sundays ago after the players of another Panther team found themselves on the wrong side of an historical comeback.
If you want to see what losing graciously looks like, spend a few minutes watching the post-game press conference when three seniors and the head coach of the UNI Panthers demonstrated to the world what it means to respect the game, your opponent and yourself. They were humble, accountable and gracious in the face of a devastating loss.
But first, let’s go back a bit to put this into perspective. On January 27, the Panthers had a win percentage below .500 with a record of 10-11. They won 12 of their next 13 games, including a dramatic buzzer beater in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship Game. This earned them a bid to the Dance, the NCAA Tournament, where they became an #11 seed.
They drew the #6 Texas Longhorns, a sports powerhouse, expected to easily handle the Panthers. But, that wasn’t to be the case as the Panthers hit an improbable half-court shot at the buzzer to survive and advance, extending their storybook season.
After an amazing, unlikely streak of winning and buzzer beaters, UNI was on the highest of highs. And then, in just 44 seconds, they hit the lowest of lows. But they did what they’d been taught to do their entire sports lives. They did was every coach instructs every player at every level to do in the face of a defeat. Lose graciously.
This team, led by seniors playing what would be their very last college basketball game and likely their last competitive game ever, showed class and dignity. They didn’t just lose, they were just 44 seconds from advancing and continuing the dream. And then, the biggest collapse in college basketball history.
Watch the press conference where you will see a coach passionately and resolutely support his players and speak of how proud he is of what they’ve accomplished. You will see players, having played their final game, sit and responsibly talk with the press, proudly displaying their emotions while also taking full responsibility for the team’s collapse and at the same time, able to recognize all they achieved as team that strove together for a common goal, building friendships and family along the way.
These young men will grow and learn more from that press conference than they ever might have by winning the game. They demonstrated respect, integrity, honor, accountability and humility.