And with that, the dream is over.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs limped their way to the finish, but Northwestern could not overcome an 18-point first half deficit, falling 79-73. In the end, Gonzaga’s first-half defensive dominance gave the No. 1 seed just enough points to hold on despite a brilliant second-half run for Northwestern.
Vic Law’s 18 points and four threes were simply not enough. McIntosh scored 20, but he also had five turnovers and was 7-of-20 from the field. Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss played well, but it was backup center Zach Collins’ 14 bench points and stifling defense that was the difference. It was also Collins’ arm that found its way into the basket while going to block a Pardon dunk, an act that sent Chris Collins into a rage and may have cost Northwestern the game.
Northwestern scored the first bucket of the game off a trademark McIntosh floater. Gonzaga would score the next six points, but Northwestern would strike back quickly to tie the game at 6-6 after four minutes. Then, Gonzaga turned on the defensive intensity. A Northwestern turnover led to a Williams-Goss three, and a second Northwestern turnover immediately after a timeout led to a Melson midrange jumper to make it 13-6. Jordan Mathews stole the ball from Taphorn for Northwestern’s third turnover in seven minutes, and Mathews then canned a three to make it 16-6 Gonzaga.
The Wildcats were completely out of sorts on offense through the first 10 minutes. Gonzaga went on an extended 12-0 run, as Northwestern failed to score for five and a half minutes. Pardon finally broke the drought with a layup at the 10:30 mark, but Northwestern had just 8 points in 12 minutes and was down 20-8 at the under-eight.
The game did not get any better for Northwestern. Johnathan Williams converted an alley-oop to make it 22-8. The Bulldogs picked apart Northwestern’s poor offense and bad transition defense, putting together an extended 26-6 run since the four-minute mark. The run was capped off by another awful Northwestern turnover, as Williams-Goss ripped the ball from Lumpkin and emphatically dunked in transition to make it a 20-point deficit for the Wildcats.
Gonzaga’s Zach Collins picked up another highlight reel dunk to make it 36-15. Vic Law was able to stem the tide by making a three with less than a minute remaining, but Northwestern entered the half down 38-20. The stats were atrocious. Northwestern shot 1-of-11 from three, had eight turnovers, managed just one free throw attempt, and averaged 0.6 points per possession. It was disheartening, to say the least.
Jordan Mathews hit a three to open the second half’s scoring, but Law answered with Northwestern’s second three of the game to keep it at 18. Law’s three Northwestern’s first sign of life in 21 minutes of game time. As has been the case throughout the season, Northwestern tried to rely on its defense to get back into the game, nearly forcing two turnovers before Lumpkin finally managed to get a clean steal and dunk to make it 44-29 with 16:05 remaining. Northwestern got another steal after the under-16, and a Law three cut the Gonzaga lead to 12. Alas, Williams-Goss immediately responded with a three on the other end, putting Gonzaga up 47-32.
Both teams were now starting to deal with foul trouble. Lindsey had already gone to the bench with three fouls, and Gonzaga put Northwestern in the bonus at the 13-minute mark. Meanwhile, Gonzaga refused to give Northwestern any leeway. Zach Collins converted back-to-back three-point plays to put Gonzaga up 53-34.
Northwestern kept plugging away. Gonzaga hit the under-twelve up 56-39 and a Law three cut the deficit to 14. But Lindsey picked up his fourth foul immediately afterwards, sending him to the bench with 11 minutes left in the game. Meanwhile, Gonzaga had gone completely cold on offense. Gonzaga went nearly 5 minutes without a made field goal, only surviving by getting to the line. The Wildcats took advantage and Nate Taphorn hit back-to-back threes to cut the lead to 9. The Northwestern fans in Salt Lake City exploded in cheers.
The madness of March was in full swing. Taphorn’s threes came at just the right time. Then, Barret Benson was called for a Flagrant 1 for elbowing Johnathan Williams in the face. But Williams missed both free throws and Karnowski turned it over on the ensuing possession, allowing McIntosh to hit a midrange jumper to make it a 9-point game. Another Gonzaga turnover (their 13th of the game) and a pair of McIntosh free throws cut the lead to seven. Then, Vic Law had a stunning putback dunk on a missed three, and suddenly it was a five-point game with 5:29 to go. Northwestern had hit five of its ten threes in the second half, and Gonzaga was left reeling after a 23-8 Northwestern run since the under-twelve.
But then, Chris Collins sprinted onto the court to dispute a potential goaltending call on Zach Collins, and the referees called him for a technical foul. The play was clearly basket interference, but the referees would not give Northwestern a break.
Collins had been berating the refs all day, but the technical foul could not have come at a worse time. Williams-Goss made both free throws, but then Gonzaga missed another three. Lindsey made one of two on the other end, and then Mathews made a layup in transition. McIntosh then turned the ball over and fell on his leg, causing him to briefly leave the game. But Lumpkin, the glue guy, the man making his only NCAA Tournament appearance, blocked Williams-Goss and then forced a turnover.
Unfortunately, Northwestern could not convert on the other end, the Bulldogs and Wildcats traded two-pointers. Then, Dererk Pardon fouled out with 2:20 left, but Collins only made one of two to keep it at single-digits. A Benson dunk and McIntosh three kept it a two-possession game with 1:30 left. However, McIntosh missed a midrange jumper and Northwestern was forced to foul Gonzaga. Killian Tillie sank both free throws and Northwestern’s hopes of extending its first-ever NCAA Tournament run. Lindsey hit a deep three to make it 76-71, but McIntosh’s fifth turnover of the game with less than 20 seconds to go sealed it for Gonzaga.
Northwestern fought bravely, but the Wildcats will be going home. Northwestern finishes its best-ever season with a 24-12 record.