CEDAR FALLS -- The student section rose as one, chanting "U-N-I, U-N-I." Johnny Moran wore a smile, and Kwadzo Ahelegbe displayed a strut.
Those were the behind-the-scenes snapshots the Northern Iowa Panthers will long remember after Tuesday's historic, 70-52 victory over Creighton.
After all, it was a win that clinched UNI's first-ever outright Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title.
When UNI joined the MVC, in 1991, some pundits felt the Panthers were in over their heads. Those critics were silenced Tuesday.
"Now the University of Northern Iowa has the most outstanding basketball team they've ever had. Jake and the team have done a tremendous job," former Panther coach Eldon Miller said in a phone interview prior to tip-off.
"I don't think they're questioning (the Panthers) anymore."
Johnny Moran and Ali Farokhmanesh scored 17 points apiece to pace the Panthers.
For members of the UNI contingent, Tuesday was as sweet as could be. Not only did the Panthers (14-2 MVC) seize sole possession of the Valley's regular-season title, but they did so against bitter rival Creighton, which had won five consecutive games in Cedar Falls.
UNI, which had shot 27.3 percent from 3-point range in its previous 11 games, bombed away in this contest's first 20 minutes. It paid dividends, as Ali Farokhmanesh buried four 3s during a mammoth, 28-5 UNI first-half scoring surge.
The hosts also committed nary a turnover in the game's first 12 minutes.
Unfortunately for Creighton, there was no cease-fire in the second half.
By the time Adam Koch drilled a whirling jumper in the lane with 13:26 to go, the hosts held a 50-31 lead.
Junior forward Lucas O'Rear, making just his second start ever for the hosts, won a scrum for a loose ball and called timeout a few minutes later, leaving the crowd of 5,440 completely satiated.
The Bluejays (13-13, 8-7 MVC), who are now 2-9 on the road this winter, never utilized 6-foot-9 center Kenny Lawson's size advantage inside.
As a result, the Panthers silenced their detractors Tuesday -- as they have often done over the last two decades.
Former Peoria Journal-Star columnist Dick Lien, for example, memorably blasted the Valley nearly 20 years ago for inviting Northern Iowa to join its ranks.
"Dick Lien," recalled MVC commissioner Doug Elgin last week, "wrote a blistering column about how (adding UNI to the Valley) wasn't like taking Southwest Missouri State, and this was different -- this was impulsive. He ripped the league for taking Northern Iowa. And, as it turns out, they are clearly one of our better programs."
UNI, Elgin added, "is a great program. And we're proud that they're a member of our league right now."
Miller, who coached UNI from 1987-98, is equally impressed with the Panthers.
"The team this year," said Miller, "has set a completely new standard at the University of Northern Iowa, and that's great to see."