In the upcoming days, we'll be counting down our Top 5 moments in Northwestern sports from the 2015 calendar year. We began with an Olympic athlete, Jordan Wilimovsky, at No. 5. We then travelled back in time to November, and north to Madison, Wis. and the wild finish of Northwestern-Wisconsin. Yesterday we looked back at Northwestern's women's basketball team doing a little dancing.
Today, at No. 2, we revisit one of the most entertaining games in Northwestern basketball history.
When Northwestern hosted Michigan in early March, it was hard to fathom how this game could possibly develop into the No. 2 moment for Northwestern athletics in 2015. The Wolverines entered the game 14-14 with the 14-15 Wildcats not far behind; both teams were firmly entrenched in the bottom half of the Big Ten and seemingly had little to play for. That didn't keep either team from playing their hearts out in what turned into an incredible double overtime thriller.
Behind the steady hand of Zak Irvin and a breakout performance from freshman Aubrey Dawkins, the Wolverines held a seven-point lead at the half. A three-pointer extended the lead to 41-29 early in the second half, but Northwestern battled back. Michigan went on a six-minute scoring drought and Alex Olah scored 10 points in seven minutes, the last two putting the Wildcats up 45-44.
John Beilein gathered his team at the under-eight-minute official television timeout and challenged his players to step up. They responded. Irvin hit a quick jumper to regain the lead, Spike Albrecht hit a jumper, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit a three to put Michigan up 51-45 with under three minutes remaining.
Whenever Northwestern would cut the lead to one, the Wolverines had an answer. After Alex Olah's layup made it a one-point game with 21 seconds remaining, Irvin calmly sank two free throws to put his team up three. Bryant McIntosh turned the ball over and the Wildcats were forced to foul, sending Irvin to the line with 15 seconds remaining. He was 8-for-8 from the line on the evening and had an opportunity to hit two free-throws to essentially ice the game.
He missed the front end of the one-and-one. JerShon Cobb grabbed the rebound and handed the ball off to Tre Demps who brought it up court. Beilein incredulously elected not to foul. Demps called Olah for a screen with seven seconds left, and elected not to use it instead going to his left. He took a step back fading away to his left and hit the contested three over Albrecht to tie the game at 59. Welsh-Ryan erupted. Albrecht's half court attempt fell harmlessly short and we were headed to overtime.
With a layup by Demps and a three by Vic Law, Northwestern actually jumped out to a 5-point lead in overtime. It was short-lived. Michigan stormed back with two threes and free throws to reclaim the lead and extend it to five with 16 seconds remaining and Spike Albrecht heading to the line. Albrecht had just gone two for two on his last trip and made over 90 percent of his free throws. Fans began to stand up and started to head out of Welsh-Ryan. Others waited, clinging to the slim hope that Albrecht would miss a free throw and keep the game within two possessions. He split the pair.
Demps took the inbound and sprinted up the court. Recognizing the six-point deficit, he peeled off into the corner in front of the Northwestern bench and promptly hit the contested three over Abdur-Rahkman to cut the lead to 3. Still, there were fewer than 10 seconds left and Michigan was a solid free throw shooting team. Spike Albrecht turned over the inbound pass which rolled out of bounds in front of the Northwestern bench, and then assistant coach Brian James drew up one of the most beautiful plays I have ever seen. JerShon Cobb caught the inbound with his back to the basket near the baseline, and found Demps in the opposite corner. Of course, he buried the three to tie the game at 71.
The Wildcats rode that momentum into the second overtime. Olah knocked down a wide open three, Law hit another from deep, and McIntosh iced the game at the line with a pair of free throws. It was an improbable win for the Wildcats who took advantage of Michigan's desire to not foul up three and their inability to hit free throws in crunch time to pull off the win. InsideNU provided highlights from the game if you'd like to relive the finish.
This game was the highlight of an otherwise underwhelming season for Chris Collins' team. Northwestern finished 15-17 on the season, but what has become known as the "Tre Demps game" remains the highlight. The Wildcats hadn't beaten Michigan since the 2010-2011 season and this was a marquee win for Collins to build on for years to come.