EVANSTON - Dererk Pardon will never pay for a drink in Evanston again.
And Northwestern might just be dancing.
It was far from easy, but the Northwestern Wildcats (21-9, 10-7 Big Ten) led for most of the game and used a buzzer-beating layup from Dererk Pardon — off a Nathan Taphorn full-court Hail Mary pass — to defeat the Michigan Wolverines (19-11, 9-8) on Wednesday night at Welsh Ryan Arena, 67-65, to secure a program-record 21st win.
Vic Law led the way for the Wildcats with 18 points and five rebounds, but Pardon was the hero with the game-winner. Bryant McIntosh was the only other Northwestern player in double digits, as he scored 13 points to along with five assists.
For Michigan, Derrick Walton Jr. and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman were exactly the one-two punch the Wolverines needed. Even in defeat, the duo scored 15 points and 13 points respectively to go along with six assists for Walton Jr. Moritz Wagner had an off night, with eight points and 10 rebounds
Northwestern got off to exactly the start it needed. Opening the game on a 6-0 run, it looked like Wildcats had come to play knowing it was a must win game. Vic Law, who has struggled massively over the last month, had four quick points and the defense was stifling on the other end.
But Michigan wasn’t going to go down that easily.
After looking completely out of sorts over the first two minutes, the Wolverines roared back with a 7-0 run of their own and took a 7-6 lead five minutes into the game. Bryant McIntosh responded with six straight points of his own before Michigan answered with a three and the game was officially in full swing.
Over the next few minutes, the scoring slowed down, but the pace did not. The teams raced up and down the court, with Northwestern managing to win the stretch 8-4 and take a 20-14 lead into the under-eight timeout. The Wildcats were working the Wolverines down low with major contributions from Gavin Skelly and Barrett Benson.
Both teams began to struggle to score even more, but for different reasons: Northwestern couldn’t stop turning it over and Michigan couldn’t make a shot. Neither team scored for roughly two minutes, with six total points being scored over the three minutes of play. Northwestern was shooting the ball well, right around 58 percent from the field, but just couldn’t keep control of the ball, turning it over 10 times in the half.
Despite the offensive struggles, Northwestern continued to build its lead. A fadeaway and-1 for Nate Taphorn sent Welsh-Ryan into a frenzy, and sent the Wildcats into the under-4 up 26-16.
Northwestern had used a 7-0 run to extend the lead, but promptly gave up an 8-0 run, highlighted by a Duncan Robinson three-pointer and were right back where they started.
A Vic Law three-pointer alleviated the pressure for a moment, but Michigan was hot now. The Wolverines immediately responded with four straight points and cut Northwestern’s lead to just 30-28. That’s where it would stay heading into halftime after Xavier Simpson just barely missed a buzzer beater three-pointer.
The Wildcats had lead by as much as 11, but after Michigan ended the half on a 12-3 run, the lead had been trimmed to just 2.
Despite the tough finish to the to the first half, Northwestern came out firing in the second half. McIntosh hit a three-pointer and then Dererk Pardon followed up with an easy layup. Then McIntosh hit a floater and Law made a three and a layup. The Wildcats were unconscious from the field.
But Michigan was still hot from its first half run, and countered almost everything Northwestern could throw at them. The Wildcats hit 5 of 6 shots over the first four minutes, but every single time Michigan answered with a shot of its own. After a hectic start, Northwestern was holding onto a 42-39 lead.
Lindsey and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman traded three-pointers, before a Abdur-Rahkman fast break dunk cut the Northwestern lead to one and forced Chris Collins to call a timeout.
Michigan then took its first lead since 7-6 on a Derrick Walton Jr. three-pointer, but Northwestern quickly answered right back with five straight points to retake the lead.
But Walton Jr. would not be denied, as Michigan’s leading scorer completed a four point play to bring the game even at 52 apiece.
Over the next few minutes, it was like watching a heavy weight boxing match. Northwestern took a four point lead. Michigan tied it. Northwestern took a lead. Michigan tied it again. Northwestern was playing exceptionally well, but Michigan continued to match shot for shot.
The referees did their best to factor in as well, when with six minutes left Walton Jr. was fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one. He missed the first free throw, but the refs had told the players that it was two shots, so Pardon grabbed the loose ball and handed it to the refs. But then the refs had to get together and announced that it was actually Michigan ball due to the possession arrow. The Wolverines scored on the ensuing possession, and suddenly Northwestern was down 60-58.
On the next two Northwestern possessions, the Wildcats got to the line, but missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones. Luckily for the hosts, Michigan missed two three-pointers on the other end, and Scottie Lindsey was able to tie the game at 60 with an impressive up and under layup.
Wagner hit one free throw to put Michigan up 61-60 before McIntosh drove in for a contested layup to put the Wildcats up one. Irvin hit a layup to give Michigan back the lead, and Pardon hit one free throw to tie it.
It was going to come down to the final two minutes.
Sanjay Lumpkin gave Northwestern a two point lead on a layup with 1:40 left in the game, and John Beilein responded with a quick timeout. Irvin hit a layup of his own miss out of the timeout and the game was once again tied at 65.
After McIntosh missed a contested jumper, Michigan airballed a jumper off the backboard. McIntosh missed yet another contested jumper with 10 seconds left, before Irvin missed a potential game winning three pointer with 3 seconds left. The ball went out of bounds and Northwestern had possession with 1.7 seconds left.
What came next can only be referred to as a miracle.
Dererk Pardon used up all of the karma that missing the tournament for over 70 years has created and hit a layup as time expired off a full court pass from Nate Taphorn.
Welsh-Ryan Arena nearly collapsed on the spot.
Northwestern won the game 67-65.
It was the greatest pass in Northwestern history.