It was a maddening yet fitting finish for the start of March in Evanston, Ill.
Dererk Pardon caught a full-court pass from Nathan Taphorn just before time expired, and calmly sank a layup to cap off the Northwestern basketball team’s 67-65 win against Michigan on Wednesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Pardon’s game-winner capped off a game in which plenty was at stake for both the Wolverines (19-11, 9-8 Big Ten) and the Wildcats (21-9, 10-7).
Michigan coach John Beilein was poised to tie a Michigan coaching legend, but was denied a chance to win his 209th game as coach of the Wolverines.
But there was plenty of history made for Northwestern. The 21 wins are a new program record. And that first NCAA Tournament berth in school history? This win certainly helped the Wildcats’ cause.
The initial turning point appeared to be an officiating gaffe with about 6 minutes left in the game that gave Michigan an extra possession, which the Wolverines converted on a layup by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to take a 60-58 lead. But the Wildcats persisted.
Michigan opened 2 for 9 shooting and at one point went more than 4 minutes without a field goal, before Abdur-Rahkman hit a 3-pointer about 8 minutes in that cut Northwestern’s lead to 12-10.
The Wildcats would stretch their lead to 11 points in the first half, but the Wolverines cut it to 27-23 with 2:04 left in the first half on Duncan Robinson’s 3-pointer, which forced the Wildcats to call a timeout.
Michigan also trailed by 6 with less than 90 seconds left in the half, then cut Northwestern’s lead to 30-28 and had a chance to even go into halftime with a lead. But Xavier Simpson’s 3-point attempt banked off the rim just before the buzzer.
Derrick Walton Jr’s 3-pointer at 12:56 gave Michigan its first lead (48-47) since 7-6 lead in the first half, and neither team had a lead greater than 4 the rest of the way. Then came Pardon’s stunning game winner.
NORTHWESTERN HAIL MARY pic.twitter.com/w86hoHaldH
— Kyle Boone (@kylebooneCBS) March 2, 2017
WHAT IT MEANS: Michigan still can’t win enough on the road, dropping to 2-8 on the road this season. And this one may have bounced the Wolverines back onto the tournament bubble.
Northwestern, again, may have gotten a lock on its first NCAA Tournament berth.
WHO STARRED: Robinson came off the bench to score 8 points in the first half, then Walton took over in the second half scoring 12 of his 15 points.
Northwestern’s Vic Law led all scorers with 18 points, 11 in the second half.
WHO STUMBLED: Michigan as a whole struggled in the first half, and not just with its shot. Beyond the 9-for-23 shooting effort, the Wolverines also committed 7 turnovers — only to be outdone by Northwestern’s 10 turnovers.
Michigan’s Moritz Wagner missed all of his field-goal attempts in the first half, including a dunk attempt that bounced off the rim about midway through the frame. His only first-half points came off 3 free throws, including a pair after he was fouled by Barret Benson on a layup attempt with 35 seconds left. Wagner finished with 8 points in the game.
WHO WAS THERE: A nice crowd in Evanston on Wednesday night, including a Michigan contingent.
As usual, a strong Michigan fan presence here. Maybe not the same as usual, but a significant amount. pic.twitter.com/9G1215qbrC
— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) March 2, 2017
The crowd also had a celebrity contingent. Julia Louis-Dreyfus — best known for her roles on “Seinfeld” and “Veep” — was in attendance (her son, Charlie Hall, is a walk-on for the Wildcats), as was Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald.
— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) March 2, 2017
WHO IS NEXT: Michigan closes the regular season at 8 p.m. ET Sunday at Nebraska. Northwestern hosts No. 16 Purdue a 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.