CHICAGO (CBS) — March Madness erupted in Evanston on Wednesday, after a buzzer-beating win for the Wildcats over the Michigan Wolverines, all but sealing the deal for Northwestern’s first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Selection Sunday for the tournament is 10 days away. Northwestern was on the bubble going into Wednesday night’s game, but it’s now much more likely its will be in the tournament, with a school-record 21 wins and a guaranteed winning record in Big Ten play, regardless of what happens in the regular season finale against No. 16 Purdue.
Students who were at the final home game Wednesday said it was electric inside Welsh-Ryan Arena. With just 1.7 seconds left, Nathan Taphorn threw a full-court inbounds pass to Dererk Pardon for the winning layup as time expired in a 67-65 victory.
“That didn’t actually just happen, did it?” Northwestern student Lauren McDonnell said. “I was like, ‘wait,’ and then the refs reviewed it, and they said it was good, so it was awesome. Yeah, it was crazy. Everyone started rushing the court.”
Cole Johnson said Taphorn used to be his roommate.
“It was really cool to see him throw that full-court pass,” he said. “I haven’t talked to him yet. I’m going to, but I don’t think Peyton Manning could have thrown a better pass.”
Northwestern has never been in the NCAA Tournament, and after teasing fans for the past couple years, it looks all but certain the Wildcats will end that drought when the field of 68 is announced on March 12.
“It’d be surreal to see us make it for the first time in school history,” student Drew Zbihley said.
Wildcats coach Chris Collins said it was especially gratifying to get the big win in Evanston.
“To do it at home, in front of our fans, and to be able to celebrate it and share it was just, what a special night,” he said.
While Northwestern might have been able to get into the tournament without Wednesday’s win, getting the victory should give it an extra boost in case they lose early in the Big Ten Tournament.