Northwestern 82, Michigan 78.
That was the final score on Tuesday night, but it doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what Northwestern men’s basketball did on an unforgettable senior night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
It took two overtimes and two miraculous shots from junior Tre Demps, but the Wildcats found a way to win on a night when three seniors played their final game in Evanston.
"I'm still trying to figure out what happened,” coach Chris Collins said. "That was an unbelievable college basketball game.”
The night began with an emotional pregame ceremony in which departing seniors Jeremiah Kreisberg, JerShon Cobb and Dave Sobolewski were honored before the crowd.
Cobb and Sobolewski are both players who were recruited by former head coach Bill Carmody, but stuck with Collins when he was hired to lead the Wildcats in 2013. Despite facing limited time on the floor throughout the season, both players would come up huge on Tuesday against the Wolverines.
Michigan took control early in the game and didn’t let up, pushing their lead to double digits early in the first half. With “Go Blue” chants ringing throughout Welsh-Ryan Arena, it looked as if the ‘Cats were in for another blowout loss.
But a steady diet of Alex Olah in the post allowed Northwestern to hang around, as the junior center played one of the best games of his Northwestern career. Olah shot a blistering 66 percent from the field and chipped in 25 points, as Michigan had no answer for the 7-footer down low.
“All the work I did in the offseason, it’s finally playing off,” Olah said. “There was one stretch where the players were just throwing the ball to me and I love that. The trust that my players and my coaches showed in me was huge.”
With the ‘Cats down three and 15 seconds left to play, Bryan McIntosh stepped out of bounds and turned the ball over to Michigan. The Wolverines could’ve iced the game with free throws, but a miss on the front end of a 1-and-1 gave the ‘Cats a chance.
Demps got the ball at the top of the key and Northwestern looked to run a set play. But when Michigan blew that up, Demps was forced to improvise. Dave Revsine had the call for the Big Ten Network:
“Demps being guarded by Albrecht…seven seconds…he gets the screen from Olah….Demps fade away three…HE GOT IT….Tre Demps for three!”
When that shot went in, it was bedlam at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Demps actually had a chance to win the game on the next possession, after Michigan turned it over, but he air-balled a shot at the buzzer. The teams headed to overtime.
Then, it seemed like things were actually over when Michigan went up by six with less than 10 seconds left in overtime. But after Demps hit a crazy turnaround three to get the ‘Cats within three, and after another Michigan turnover, it was déjà vu for Northwestern.
Demps. Three pointer. Double overtime.
“Coach James just drew up an unbelievable play and JerShon did a great job of catching the ball, getting it and then making that pass to the corner,” Demps said. “A lot of people are going to talk about me hitting a shot on that one, but I think you’ve got to talk about Coach James and JerShon.”
In the second overtime, the ‘Cats finally took control of the game, as Alex Olah hit a massive three-pointer to put Northwestern ahead for good. A couple of free throws later and the ‘Cats were celebrating their most improbable win of the year.
The victory moves Northwestern back to .500 at 15-15, with their season finale in Iowa City on Saturday. A win against the Hawkeyes and a little magic in the Big Ten Tournament next week could get the ‘Cats into the postseason discussion.
But Collins refused to look ahead at what the future may hold for his young team. And after a win like this, it’s hard to blame him.
“We really haven’t talked as a team about trying to go to the NIT or trying to have a winning record,” Collins said. “Our focus has been let’s move up in the Big Ten and try and get as high as we can in the standings before this thing’s over.”