SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Northwestern Wildcats made their long anticipated debut in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday afternoon against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Boasting a school record 23 victories on the season, and playing in their first ever NCAA Tournament, the Northwestern Wildcats fans and alumni traveled in the masses to watch a thrilling finish between the ninth seeded Commodores, and the eighth seeded Wildcats in their opening round match up.
The Wildcats did not disappoint in their opening round match-up, giving the fans that traveled and the ones at home all they can handle in terms of excitement as they knocked off the Vanderbilt Commodores in their first ever NCAA Tournament victory, 68-66 in a thrilling and wacky finish.
Northwestern held the momentum for the majority of the game, taking an early lead over the Commodores and not relinquishing that lead until the closing minutes of the second half, leading Vanderbilt 34-27 at the end of the first half on the strength of 56 percent shooting from the field, and 25 points combined from Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey.
The Wildcats would charge out to an even bigger advantage in the beginning of the second half, fueled by scores from Bryant McIntosh, and a three pointer by Nathan Taphorn that stretched the Wildcats lead to 15 over Vanderbilt, with under 14 minutes to play in the game.
That Wildcats lead would quickly evaporate as the Commodores would go on to score twelve unanswered points in a span of roughly two minutes after a timeout that followed the Taphorn triple.
The two teams would stay close throughout the final ten minutes of the game, with the Wildcats stretching their lead by a couple of points, immediately followed by Vanderbilt cutting the lead back down to one repeatedly, before finally taking the lead from the Wildcats for the first time since early in the first half.
Dererk Pardon hit a pair of free-throws inside of the final minute to put the ‘Cats back in front by one, before Vanderbilt again answered with another go-ahead layup by Riley LaChance with 18 seconds remaining.
In what can only be described as an unfortunate mental lapse for Commodore guard Matthew Fisher-Davis, Fisher-Davis grabbed and fouled Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh on the inbound pass, sending the Wildcats’ top free-throw shooter to the line with 15 seconds left in the game.
McIntosh hit a pair of free-throws to give Northwestern a 67-66 lead, and the Commodores three point attempt in the final ten seconds rimmed out, before being deflected out of bounds by a Vanderbilt player, giving Northwestern possession with just 1.4 seconds remaining. Dererk Pardon sealed the deal by hitting one of two free-throw attempts, giving the ‘Cats a 68-66 lead, and sending them to their first ever NCAA Tournament victory.
The Wildcats will take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.