DES MOINES – Northern Iowa has a knack for playing its best against the best.
The unranked Panthers pulled off another big upset Saturday night, handing fifth-ranked Iowa State its first loss of the season.
Wes Washpun set career highs with 28 points and 11 assists as Northern Iowa upset the Cyclones 81-79 Saturday night for its second win over a top-five opponent this season.
Paul Jesperson added a career-high 21 points on seven 3-pointers for the Panthers (7-3), who also stunned then-No. 1 North Carolina 71-67 at home last month.
"That's something I really like about our guys: They have the ability to rise to the occasion," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said.
Georges Niang scored 30 points for the Cyclones, who fell just shy of their second double-digit comeback in three games.
Niang made it 80-79 on free throws with 20 seconds left, and the Cyclones (9-1) forced a subsequent turnover. Niang slipped, though, giving the Panthers the ball back.
"It was an unfortunate situation there. You've got to roll with him. He's done a lot of great things. He'll continue to do a lot of great things here," said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm, who took his first loss with the Cyclones.
Washpun hit a free throw and Monte Morris -- whose basket capped a 20-point rally to beat Iowa 83-82 last week -- missed a floater at the buzzer.
Iowa State wasn't about to overlook the Panthers after watching them knock off the Tar Heels. Washpun and the Panthers simply couldn't miss in the first 15 minutes.
Northern Iowa hit 13 of its first 17 shots. Washpun beat the shot clock with a long 3 over an outstretched defender, and Klint Carlson's drive pushed it to 41-30.
Washpun made his first six shots and had 17 points, six assists and three rebounds in the first half. Still, the Cyclones were able to cut it to 46-37 by halftime.
"We just, defensively in the first half, weren't very good. Our guys did a better job in the second half locking in. We just weren't able to finish. We'll learn from it," Prohm said.
Iowa State pulled even at 66 on Jameel McKay's dunk with 7:20 left. Jesperson answered with consecutive 3s, and Matt Bohannon's 3 made it 78-73 with 2:40 to go.
Northern Iowa finished 13 of 22 from 3-point range.
"We played these guys a couple of years ago and felt like we let one get away there. The guys who played in that decided we weren't going to let that happen again," Washpun said.
Iowa State had its chances down the stretch. But this time, the Cyclones fell just a few plays short of another huge comeback win.
McKay had 18 points and Abdel Nader scored 14 for Iowa State.
Northern Iowa: Jesperson was 4 of 4 on 3s in the first half. ... The Panthers led by 18 in their last meeting with Iowa State two years ago but lost 91-82 in overtime. ... Northern Iowa lost 33 of its first 38 meetings with Iowa State.
Iowa State: The Cyclones had only four assists on 16 baskets in the first half. ... It was a neutral-court matchup, but the crowd clearly leaned toward Iowa State -- whose campus is only about 35 miles from Des Moines. ... Deonte Burton scored seven points in his Cyclones debut.
Morris had one of his worst games in recent memory -- though it was still a decent outing. He was 3 of 10 from the floor, including that miss at the buzzer, but still finished with eight points, six assists, five rebounds, three steals and no turnovers.