As the Northwestern athletic year just about wraps up, we at NBN took a look at what we think the biggest and best moments of this year were. (Spoiler: the men’s basketball team was kinda sorta exciting this season from what I’ve heard).
A shot for the ages – Evan Denton
Bryant McIntosh, on March 16, 2017, you cemented yourself as a Northwestern trivia question for the rest of your life. The question “Who scored NU’s first ever NCAA Tournament basket?” now has an answer. On a driving right-handed layup against Vanderbilt, NU finally etched its name into the NCAA Tournament’s scorebook.
Years of a dormant, Big Ten bottom-dweller program were swept away for a new era (yes, pun intended). Not only did McIntosh’s layup play a part in deciding a narrow 68-66 victory over the Commodores, but it brought a sense of school pride to alums all over the country – and 8,314 young adults in Evanston.
The day it happened – Trevor Lystad
IT HAPPENED pic.twitter.com/eUbhpRSVuK— NBN Sports (@nbn_sports) March 12, 2017
Some of you may remember that the Northwestern men’s basketball team had never made the basketball tournament until this year – on March 12 this year, that changed.
With blood pressures running high in a packed Welsh-Ryan arena, the selection show finally unveiled Northwestern as the 8-seed in the west region. After 78 long years of waiting, it had finally happened.
“To me, today is the beginning of Northwestern basketball,” coach Chris Collins told the crowd after the announcement. “Today is the day we put ourselves on the national map.”
As you probably know, the ‘Cats went on to beat Vanderbilt then lose to Gonzaga (purely because Gonzaga cheated) in the tournament. Regardless, March 12 is a day that will last forever in Northwestern history books.
The Pinstripe Bowl – Jono Zarrilli
Following the Wildcats’ strange, roller coaster-esque 2016 campaign, many fans were pleasantly surprised to see Northwestern picked to face off against No. 23 Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. In a 6-6 season that included a loss to Illinois State, ESPN expert Danny Kanell seemed like he may have had a point when he declared Pitt a lock to win at Yankee Stadium, saying that Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats should “just be happy to be here.”
Fitz decisively proved Kanell wrong as the Wildcats emerged on top, 31-24. Much like Northwestern’s season, the game was back-and-forth. The MVP of the game was junior tailback Justin Jackson, who exposed Pitt’s defense in running for 224 yards (a Pinstripe Bowl record) and three touchdowns, including a 40-yard run in the third quarter that put the ‘Cats up 21-17 to the delight of the large NU contingent at the game. On the defensive side, aided by in-game injuries to Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman and running back James Conner, the Northwestern defense intercepted 3 passes and recovered a fumble.
Shortly after Jackson’s 40-yard burst, Pitt retaliated with a blocked punt turned into a Ben DeNucci touchdown pass that put the Panthers up 24-21. Northwestern came back with 14-play, 76 yard drive capped off by a 21-yard Clayton Thorson-to-Garrett Dickerson touchdown pass to put the ‘Cats up for good. A NU field goal on the next possession created the final score. Northwestern’s underdog status as well as the win in front of 37,918 fans and on national TV makes it undoubtedly the program’s biggest win of the season and in recent memory.
Northwestern upsets Penn State – Tim Hackett
Wins over Notre Dame and Duke looked good, but Northwestern lacrosse truly didn’t have a signature win on the season – a “resume” win, you might say – until the Big Ten Tournament. The No. 3 seed in the tournament, the Wildcats knew they were in for a rematch with Penn State, to whom they lost in a thriller just three weeks previously.
This match went a little differently. Neither team ever led by more than two goals (Penn State never led at all), setting the stage for a photo finish. With the score tied at 11, midfielder Megan Kinna leapt up and intercepted a pass, took a free run on cage, and deposited the ball past the goalkeeper for the game-winning goal with 59 seconds on the clock. Five players tallied at least two points, Mallory Weisse made 11 saves, and Shelby Fredericks won 13 draw controls, more than the entire Penn State roster, to lead the Wildcats to the upset of the No. 5 team in the nation.
Finally, the Wildcats had their signature win. Not even a loss later that weekend to Maryland in the title game could knock Northwestern out of contention for the NCAA Tournament. The pedigree and strength of schedule might have been enough to help them sneak in, but with a win over the Nittany Lions, the Wildcats erased any doubt that they belonged in the postseason.
The Play – Meg Pisarczyk
In 1.7 seconds, the Northwestern men’s basketball team made history. Nathan Taphorn’s pass across the court to Dererk Pardon was perfectly thrown, and Pardon’s layup during the last milliseconds of the game sealed a 67-65 win over Michigan toward the end of the regular season. The Play will forever be remembered by Wildcat fans as the moment NU solidified its first ever invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
The Athletic Department instantly knew this moment would go down in Northwestern history. To commemorate the excitement from the March 1 game, they recruited members of the football team to recreate The Play the very next day.