By Astasia Williams
Hail Mary. Program-record 21 wins. March Madness.
The first day of March lived up to its nickname at Welsh-Ryan Arena as Northwestern took down Michigan in a cinematic fashion Wednesday night. Now may be the time for Evanston, Illinois, to put on its dancing shoes for the NCAA tournament.
Home-court advantage was in full affect for the Wildcats. Students rushed into the Wildside section to grab their free T-shirts and giant cardboard heads of famous Northwestern alumni. Twenty-one shirtless males stood in the student section with purple letters on their chests, spelling out P-O-U-N-D-T-H-E-R-O-C-K-#-B-I-G-C-A-T-S.
Turns out, Northwestern threw the rock to record arguably its biggest win in team history.
“Don’t the Bears need a QB?” Wildcats coach Chris Collins joked.
Look out Trevor Siemian. Nathan Taphorn may have a future at quarterback. Taphorn showed his arm strength throwing a floor-length pass to Dererk Pardon with 1.7 seconds left on the clock to score the game-winning basket and beat the Wolverines 67-65.
“That was a play I will always remember,” Taphorn said. “Especially being my last week here at Welsh-Ryan.”
Until the final play, the Wildcats lived by their ‘Pound The Rock’ mantra, scoring 36 points in the paint and shooting 52.9 percent from the field. But they also committed 12 turnovers. Northwestern had to inbound the ball under Michigan’s basket, and any long pass raised the turnover risk. But Collins wanted to make a statement.
“My instincts just said go for it,” coach Christ Collins said. “Once I said that, coach [Brian] James grabbed the clipboard and drew up a great play.”
A great play, indeed, which no one will ever forget. Also, a play that has never been executed in a game or even practiced by this team.
“He said, ‘Go long and score the ball,”’ Pardon said. “As I caught it, I’m like… the rim is right there. So I just turned around and shot the layup. This was just amazing for us and for this program.”
Pardon is correct. Northwestern men’s basketball notched in its 21st win of the season, a program record. And the Wildcats matched their highest conference win total since the 1932-1933 season.
“It was just a special night,” Collins said, choking up. “To finish the game the way you did; it’s almost fitting when you’re trying to do things that are really hard. It takes exceptional things sometimes.”
From the opening tip, Welsh-Ryan was electric. As the song says, the purple frenzies brought the turbulence. An hour before tipoff, every seat in the 8,117 arena was filled with fans of all ages. On Feb. 14, Northwestern announced that the last three home games of the regular season were completely sold out.
Once the clock hit 0:00, all you saw was the sea of purple, a human dog pile, and a lot of Wildcat basketball enthusiasts grasping what is happening before them.
The Wildcats knew that they were not in for an easy matchup Wednesday. The Wolverines had won their last two games and five of their past six, including an upset over Big Ten regular-season champ Purdue.
The Boilermakers visit Evanston on Sunday for another Welsh-Ryan sellout and a nationally televised game on CBS to close out the regular season.
“This is the game I committed here for,” Northwestern forward Vic Law said. “To play in a game like this; I don’t think any other Northwestern team has played in a game so big as this. That really meant everything.”
The Wildcats are proving themselves to be more than just a bubble team for the NCAA tournament. Collins spent most of the season telling the media that he didn’t want his locker room to focus on the rankings and the newly added media attention because of their success. But after the Indiana game, Collins challenged his team to feed into the hype.
“Anything good in life involves handling pressure and succeeding under pressure,” Collins said. “We are not going to avoid it anymore. We are not going to not going to talk about it. There is pressure on us. We got to go out and win if we want to do something great.”
Are you not entertained?