In 1980, the Northern Iowa Panthers men’s basketball team won the Iowa Conference championship and made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Led by head coach Eldon Miller, the Panthers finished the season with a 20-6 overall record and a 9-1 record in conference play.
The Panthers’ conference championship was clinched in a dramatic final game of the season against rival Wartburg College. Northern Iowa came back from a 12-point deficit in the second half to win the game 73-71, with guard Mark Christensen hitting the game-winning shot with just four seconds remaining.
In the NCAA Division III Tournament, Northern Iowa faced off against Alma College in the first round. The Panthers were able to come away with a 76-65 victory, but were eliminated in the second round by Elmhurst College by a score of 75-62.
The 1980 season was a significant milestone for the Northern Iowa basketball program, as it marked the first time the team had won a conference championship and made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. It also set the stage for future success under Coach Miller, who would lead the Panthers to five NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 appearance in 1990 before leaving to coach at Ohio State.