Often, in college basketball, the team that wins the game is not the team that played better for the majority of the 40 minutes. Often, it's not even the more talented team. Tonight, Northwestern was far inferior to the Michigan Wolverines for much of regulation. But thanks to game-tying three-pointers by Tre Demps at the end of the second half and the ensuing first overtime, that didn't matter.
Michigan led by as many as 12 points in the second half, with a Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman three at the 17:18 mark pushing the score to 41-29. Northwestern, coming off a brutal 86-60 loss at Illinois on Saturday, looked like a defeated team that was in no way prepared to come back, even in the final home game for its seniors.
But Northwestern didn't fade away into the night. Thanks to a pair of big runs, one 6-0 and another 10-0, the Wildcats brought themselves right back into the game and even though Michigan would regain the lead up until the last few seconds of the half, Demps was there to extend the festivities.
Demps calmly knocked down a triple to tie up the score at 59 with less than four seconds remaining. That shot sent Welsh-Ryan into a state of pandemonium. Things only got crazier when Michigan threw the resulting in-bounds pass away, giving Demps a chance for the win, a jumper he missed badly. That meant overtime in Evanston.
Basically the exact same situation occurred in the first extra period and, again, Demps--who has been incredibly efficient for Northwestern for a good chunk of the latter portion of NU's Big Ten slate--did it again. Northwestern controlled the second, and final, overtime from tip to buzzer, starting with an Olah three and ending with an Olah rebound.
It was an incredible win on an incredible night.
Collins couldn't stop talking highly of his junior center after the game, citing how "we're a different team when Alex is on the floor." Olah also was pleased, saying how he thinks his offseason work "is finally paying off." Also, on his matchup with Michigan center Ricky Doyle, which he clearly won, Olah said: "I knew I had a mismatch and knew I could go out there and score."
But tonight wouldn't have been possible without JerShon Cobb, who joked during the postgame press conference that he's "now undefeated in Senior Nights." Cobb, due to a foot injury, hadn't played in around a month, but convinced Collins to let him play in his final home game and racked up 33 crucial minutes. He scored 14 big points and grabbed eight rebounds, including a second half stretch--from the 2:35 mark to the 0:34 mark--in which he scored 10 consecutive Northwestern points. Cobb set Demps up for his pair of incredible threes.
"JerShon hit some big baskets," Collins said, in praise of his senior guard. "I did not expect 33 minutes [from Cobb]. I did not expect 14 points and I did not expect 8 rebounds."
Dave Sobolewski even had a role to play on senior night. With Bryant McIntosh battling illness, Sobolewski logged 27 minutes, and Collins credited him for stepping up in place of the star freshmen.
Even though the Wildcats won this game mostly thanks to their players who will be here next season, this win wasn't for them. It wasn't even for Collins, who has poured his heart into every game this team has played in his time in Evanston. It was for Cobb, Sobolewski and Kreisberg, who haven't even played the biggest roles this year but undoubtedly will have their presence felt by this team for years.
Demps said following the pregame Senior Night festivities, athletic director Jim Phillips looked the team in the eye and told them that the senior deserved a win tonight. "The leadership of our seniors was unbelievable tonight," Demps said. "They wouldn't let us lose. It's all about winning and it's about sending the seniors out the right way."
Could there be a more fitting finish to the careers of players who missed a good part of their senior season with an injury, got relegated to the bench in favor of a freshman and transferred to Northwestern from Yale, of all places? It appears the answer is no, and with the brutal fashion in which the Wildcats have lost some games in recent years, it's the least they deserve.
The night was summed up well by Collins, who looked physically and emotionally drained, predictably so: "That was an unbelievable college basketball game, man."