To say that there was a full slate of sports over the weekend is quite the understatement when you factor in there was 48 NCAA games alone. These aren’t regular games either, these are high intensity, high pressured games where a single possession can be the difference between winning and losing; between going to the next round or going home as your season just ended. There are no second chances. It is a difficult road to travel for all players and coaches as victory comes from a mixture of talent, effort, system, match-ups, luck and being able to deal with an inordinate amount of pressure.
— Alex Bausch (@CFN_Intern) March 2, 2017
Now take a basketball program like they have at Northwestern. We all know the pressure of being in a tournament like this, but how about the pressure of getting into a tournament like this. The picture above was after their victory over Michigan on March 1st that helped clinch their invitation. In 78 years, this is the first time ever that a team from Northwestern has made it to the NCAA Final Four tournament. So it is with no surprise that there were plenty of purple-dressed alumni and their families on hand to watch them over the weekend. Who would have guessed that this team would be involved in the two biggest incidents that happened over the weekend.
The first happened at the end of their opening game versus Vanderbilt. Northwestern had played well and even had a double digit lead in the second half. Their play started to drop however, and Vanderbilt was able to catch up behind a 22 point shooting performance by Matthew Fisher-Davis. Infact, Vanderbilt didn’t only catch up, they were actually leading by a point with 15 seconds to go as Northwestern inbounded the ball. Whether it was a mental lapse or the pressure of the moment, Fisher-Davis for whatever reason thought they were down a point instead of up by one. He therefore thought he needed a stop and intentionally fouled Bryant McIntosh who just happens to be Northwestern’s best free throw shooter as well. You already know how this ends.
The error was as big as Chris Webber’s infamous “timeout” call back in 1993. If you recall, Michigan was down 2 points in the last few seconds of the game when Chris Webber called a timeout. Unfortunately, they did not have any timeouts left and that cost them the game. Now Webber has gone on to have a very good NBA career and has over come that moment, although no one, including Webber, ever forgets it. The same might very well happen to Fisher-Davis. It is a shame because that split second error overshadows his scoring performance in getting his Vanderbilt team back from a 15 point deficit. It is also a shame because it overshadows Northwestern’s very first Madness game and their very first Madness victory.
But it was a victory nonetheless and the purple faithful I’m sure were quite content with the result regardless of how it came and regardless of where it meant going. Which of course was a meeting with #1 seed Gonzaga. The game started as expected with Gonzaga jumping out to a double digit lead and closing the first half strong up 38-20. Northwestern though made some transitions during the half and started to claw their way back. With about 5 minutes left in the game they had cut the lead to 5 points when the most controversial moment of the weekend happened.
Gonzaga’s Zach Collins went up to block a shot but his hand went through the rim. That should be an automatic goaltending call and the basket should have counted. Instead, all three referees missed it and allowed play to continue. Northwestern Coach Chris Collins was furious, and rightfully so, but he stepped on to the court to voice his displeasure and received a technical foul. Gonzaga made the free throws and maintained possession of the ball. So what should have been a 63-60 game now was a 65-58 game. Northwestern couldn’t mount another push and the game ended 79-73 with Gonzaga advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
To add insult to injury, during the Northwestern press conference after the game, the NCAA released a statement indicating that the referees did indeed make a mistake in not making the goaltending call. Little good it does for the Wildcat faithful as it doesn’t change anything. Northwestern will still be heading home but if this is any indication of the excitement they generate when they participate in March Madness, we can only hope they are back again next year.
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