Wild way for Wild­cats to win their opener

Un­ex­pected as­sis­tance propels North­west­ern in its tour­na­ment de­but (8) NORTH­WEST­ERN 68, (9) VAN­DER­BILT 66

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ed­die Pells

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.

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