Northwestern won their first-ever NCAA Tournament game on Thursday. As with many games in Northwestern history, this game wasn’t going to be easy or pretty. Northwestern lead by as much as 15 in the game, only to see the lead turn in to a one-point deficit in the final minutes. Thanks to Bryant McIntosh’s two free throws, and one from Sanjay Lumpkin in the final seconds to ice the game, Northwestern has advanced to the next round.
Here’s what we learned from the game.
What We Learned:
1. Bryant McIntosh is Northwestern’s leader, and today it showed
Northwestern needed its big three: Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law, and Bryant McIntosh to show up today in order to beat Vanderbilt. Vic Law struggled, only scoring two points. Lindsey had 14, but McIntosh dominated the game for Northwestern. Outside of foul trouble in the first half, he had 25 points on 10-16 shooting, 3-5 from beyond the arc, and 2-2 from the line. He also added 4 rebounds and three assists to his total for the game.
McIntosh hit two free throws when Northwestern was down one in the final seconds of the game to give Northwestern a one-point lead, which were arguably the most important points of the game.
2. The Wildcats Need To Do a Better Job at Shooting Free Throws
March Madness is full of surprises. One of the keys and difference-makers in the Big Dance has always been free throw shooting. While Northwestern made crucial ones down the stretch, Northwestern shot 10-18 from the line today, which is 58%. Northwestern averages 75% at the line, but the team struggled there today. For Northwestern to be a threatening team at the Big Dance, all of their players have to shoot well at the line, not just Bryant McIntosh.
3. Northwestern’s Defense is What Holds Them Together
Northwestern has been known to struggle in late-game situations, but as the season has gone on, they’ve continued to improve. They didn’t turn the ball over in the final minutes or commit fouls that were unnecessary. The Wildcats struggled to defend in the second half as Vanderbilt heated up from beyond the arc, but they were persistent and followed through.
Northwestern’s defense caused problems for Vanderbilt in the first half, which allowed them to get off to a cold start shooting. Northwestern was locked in, and for the most part, made smart decisions on the defensive end. They blocked shooters from driving in to the lane, and kept them as far off of the three-point line as they could.
This Northwestern is different. They’ve been different all season, and on the national stage in front of loyal fans today, they showed America they were different.
While yes, there were things that went wrong in this game, and the play Matt Fisher-Davis made at the end of the game was tough to watch, Northwestern made the plays down the stretch and did what they had to do in order to win. Northwestern is having a 1995 Rose Bowl-esque season.
And it isn’t over yet.