The Northwestern Wildcats tried to pack a program's worth of March Madness nerves into one game.
Northwestern made the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history this season, and it beat Vanderbilt 68-66 in a thrilling contest that came down to the final seconds. Bryant McIntosh drilled two free throws to take the lead after Vanderbilt's Matthew Fisher-Davis committed an inexcusable foul in the backcourt with his team leading by one.
Riley LaChance then missed a three for Vanderbilt, and the Wildcats clinched their first NCAA tournament win after Vanderbilt's desperation heave didn't fall.
LaChance made a layup to give the Commodores the lead with less than 20 seconds left, but Fisher-Davis didn't realize the game situation, as he fouled McIntosh even though Northwestern was in the bonus.
The 86.1 percent free-throw shooter calmly drilled the freebies to end a sequence that lived up to the March Madness moniker:
Joseph Goodman of AL.com tweeted, "That Vandy kid is going to be voted into the Northwestern Sports Hall of Fame."
Northwestern head coach Chris Collins will go down in school history as the first to lead the Wildcats to an NCAA tournament win. It is a reward for the gradual improvement he has demonstrated after going 14-19 in his first season with the team, 15-17 in his second, 20-12 in his third and now leading the team to the Big Dance.
He made his father and former NBA coach and player Doug Collins sweat Thursday:
Northwestern responded with a long-overdue celebration:
McIntosh did more than just hit the free throws. He finished with 25 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals behind 10-of-16 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from downtown. Dererk Pardon and Scottie Lindsey each scored 14 points for the Wildcats as well.
Despite the mistake, Fisher-Davis helped Vanderbilt battle back from a double-digit deficit and finished with a team-high 22 points.
McIntosh commented on the victory, per NCAA March Madness: "A dream come true, what a special moment for our program, for our guys in the locker room that have worked so hard, and the toughness we displayed today is what we're all about in our program."
That toughness kept the Wildcats' undefeated NCAA tournament record intact (1-0), as SB Nation CBB pointed out, tongue fully in cheek:
They will put that undefeated record on the line against No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the second round Saturday. The Bulldogs lost just one game all season and beat Arizona, Florida and Saint Mary's.
Northwestern will need to play even better than it did Thursday to advance to the Sweet 16.