Northwestern waited 78 years for its first NCAA Tournament game. It’ll have to wait only two days for its second.
The 8-seed Wildcats defeated 9-seed Vanderbilt 68-66 on Thursday in Salt Lake City in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, thanks to some timely free throws and an inexplicable error from a Commodore player.
Riley LaChance had just given Vanderbilt a 66-65 lead with 17 seconds left when Matthew Fisher-Davis, apparently confused about the score, intentionally fouled Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh. McIntosh hit both free throws to give his team the lead, and the Wildcats held on to win the West Region matchup.
It was McIntosh who kept Northwestern afloat all afternoon, scoring a game-high 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, while adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Whenever the Wildcats needed a bucket, McIntosh seemed to step up.
Junior guard Scottie Lindsey added 14 points sophomore center Dererk Pardon put up 14 points and 11 rebounds for Northwestern, which will face top-seeded Gonzaga on Sunday. The Bulldogs beat 16-seed South Dakota State 66-46.
At one point during the second half, Northwestern (24-11) looked poised to run away with this one. A 3-pointer by Nathan Taphorn put the Wildcats up 49-34 with 13:41 to play, and purple-clad alums took out their sharpies. But Vanderbilt (19-16) responded with an and-1 layup and a trio of 3-pointers to cut the deficit 3 with 11:26 to play.
The teams treaded water for much of the next 10 minutes, until a 3 from LaChance with 1:36 to play put Vanderbilt up 62-61, its first lead since early in the first half.
But Northwestern didn’t go away. Pardon, a 53-percent free throw shooter who hit 6 free throws down the stretch, made a pair to put the Wildcats up 65-64 with 26 seconds left. LaChance made another layup with 17 seconds to play, which was followed by Davis’ miscue. When Vanderbilt missed a final heave at the buzzer, Northwestern got to celebrate its first NCAA Tournament victory.
What went right for Northwestern in 2017 NCAA Tournament opener
The Wildcats were on fire from the field pretty much from the start and wound up shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point land. When the Commodores made their run in the second half, Northwestern didn’t wilt. And when the game came down to the wire, the Wildcats stepped up.
The biggest thing that went right was the play of McIntosh, who showed in a big way why he was second-team All-Big Ten this season. He made 3 of 5 from long range and showed off his impressive arsenal of floaters. Plus he hit the biggest free throws of the game.
What Northwestern’s win over Vanderbilt in 2017 NCAA Tournament means
Northwestern players have insisted in the last few days that they weren’t content just to make the NCAA Tournament but instead planned to make a run once they got there. The Wildcats lived up to that promise Thursday. Now, one of the tournament’s most compelling stories lives to see another day.
At this point, Northwestern is playing with house money. No matter what happens from here on, this Wildcats team will go down in program lore.
Chris Collins, on TBS: "We felt no pressure today. The pressure was getting here."
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 16, 2017
What’s next for Northwestern in 2017 NCAA Tournament
After starting off very slowly, Gonzaga got things going in the second half Thursday. The Wildcats and Bulldogs will face off Saturday, though the time is TBD.
Northwestern-Vanderbilt box score from the 2017 NCAA Tournament