Comeback to end regulation sets up magical finish

Anthony Tao

Three minutes were all that separated Northwestern from a fifth straight loss. The Wildcats trailed 62-50 with 3:13 to go in the second half when coach Bill Carmody called a 30-second timeout.

Eighteen seconds later, guard Michael Jenkins drilled a 3-pointer that sliced the deficit to nine. All of a sudden, with their fans back in the game, the Cats had a glimmer of hope.

NU outscored No. 23 Iowa 13-4 after Jenkins’ 3-pointer. Forward Vedran Vukusic’s three free throws with 14 seconds left tied the game at 66.

Iowa’s Pierre Pierce dribbled into the lane and elevated over T.J. Parker to get off a final shot, but the ball rattled off the rim as the crowd erupted in euphoria.

As Parker screamed above the tumult, congratulating everyone in sight, Iowa coach Steve Alford sank.

“This is about as discouraged as I have been,” Alford said. “We have got to play smart, and we were the absolute opposite of that tonight.”

In the final two minutes of regulation, Iowa unraveled. The Hawkeyes showed signs of a road collapse, a sight all too familiar for NU.

The Hawkeyes went to the foul line five times during the final 2:05 but made just 4 of 9. For the season, the team shoots 69.3 percent in free throws attempted in the final four minutes of regulation and overtime.

With 1:26 remaining, Jeff Horner’s second free throw was nullified because of a lane violation by forward Greg Brunner.

“Good foul shooters on their team missed,” Carmody said. “You have to be lucky. We were fortunate tonight.”

NU played fast but under control. With 1:46 left, Vukusic drained a 3-pointer to pull the Cats to within six, 62-56. After Brunner’s lane violation, Parker found Vukusic cutting to the lane, and Vukusic converted a layup.

Horner made one of two free throws before Vukusic struck again. His 3-pointer made with 51 seconds left made it a two-point game, 63-61.

Iowa extended the lead to five when Adam Haluska hit 3 of 4 free throws within 3 seconds, but Vukusic answered with another layup off a pass from Parker to bring the score to 66-63.

“I think it was confidence,” Vukusic said. “We realized that we can play with this team even though they’re ranked. We were like, ‘We like can beat them.'”

In the final stretch, Carmody abandoned his zone defense and played pressure man-on-man. When the Cats didn’t foul, the Hawkeyes struggled to get off a shot.

With 28.1 seconds remaining and NU trailing 66-63, Brunner slipped after crossing mid-court with Parker furiously chasing. He was called for traveling, giving the Cats one last shot.

After an NU timeout with 22.5 seconds to go, Vukusic was fouled on his 3-point attempt. His free throws sent the game into overtime, where Jenkins’ third and final 3-pointer gave NU a one-point win.

Students poured onto the floor. The band struck up the fight song as Carmody, coatless, clapped in sync. Later he shook hands with jubilant students.

“Home court advantage,” Carmody said, “is huge.”

Reach Anthony Tao at [email protected].