Wild way for Wildcats to win their opener
Unexpected assistance propels Northwestern in its tournament debut (8) NORTHWESTERN 68, (9) VANDERBILT 66
salt lake city» At Northwestern, the party goes on.
At Vanderbilt, there is only one question: What was he thinking?
Northwestern’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory — 68-66 over Vanderbilt — came after Commodores guard Matthew Fisher-Davis inexplicably grabbed Bryant McIntosh of the Wildcats on purpose, sending McIntosh to the free-throw line for the go-ahead points with only 14.6 seconds left.
“I actually thought we were down one,” Fisher-Davis explained after Vandy’s heartbreaker in the West Regional on Thursday. “Coach ... pointed at him, but he was just telling me that was my matchup. I took it as (I should) foul.”
And though Fisher-Davis scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half to help ninth-seeded Vandy (19-16) rally from 15 points down, his mistake was the main takeaway from this game — maybe not as bad as Chris Webber infamously calling a timeout that Michigan didn’t have or Georgetown’s Fred Brown throwing a pass to James Worthy of North Carolina in the 1982 final, but certainly not one for the “One Shining Moment” video, either.
“An honest mistake,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins called it. “You feel bad for players. (Fisher-Davis) was tremendous today. Certainly, I was surprised (by the foul).”
The stunning sequence was set up after Riley LaChance made a layup with 17.8 seconds remaining to put the Commodores up by one point.
But seconds after the inbounds pass, Fisher-Davis reached out and grabbed McIntosh around the waist while the Northwestern guard was dribbling up the backcourt. That put eighth-seeded Northwestern in the double bonus, and McIntosh went to the line and calmly made both free throws with 14.6 seconds left for a 67-66 lead.
“When he grabbed me, I had thought we were down one, and I’m thinking maybe I made a mistake,” McIntosh said. “I had to put my mind on making the free throws at the end.”
Northwestern forced LaChance to miss a 3 on the next possession, and the Wildcats made (24-11) another free throw.
Fisher-Davis heaved a desperation shot at the final buzzer, but it missed, and he sunk his head and reached down to his shoes in despair before heading to the sideline where his teammates hugged him.
While the Wildcats doused Collins with water to celebrate a win that extends the program’s first trip to March Madness by at least one more game, there were red eyes in the Vanderbilt locker room. But Fisher-Davis’ teammates had his back.
“He’s the type of person (who’s going to) feel some blame,” said Commodores forward Luke Kornet. “But in the second half, we have no chance if he doesn’t make the shots that he made. We’re with him no matter what.”
First-year Vandy coach Bryce Drew, who enjoyed a much different moment decades ago as a player, said certainly he and his star guard would talk more in the near future. His message in the aftermath was simple: “From Day One, we teach our guys that we’re a team and one play at the end ... doesn’t win or lose the game.”
Gavin Skelly celebrates Thursday after helping Northwestern beat Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City.