Men’s Basketball: In career-ending loss, Alex Olah creates signature moment


Sam Schumacher/The Daily Northwestern

Alex Olah drives down the court. The senior center gave an emotional postgame press conference, and teared up at one point, after perhaps his final game as a Wildcat.

Ben Pope, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

INDIANAPOLIS — As the clock wound down on what looked to be his final game, Alex Olah watched fellow senior Tre Demps — the hero in last season’s miraculous win over Michigan — dribble to his left, pull up and attempt a jump shot to try to tie the game.

This time, Demps’ shot was off the mark, bouncing off the back of the rim. The ball hung in the air above the paint, above Olah and above several Michigan defenders, for just a moment.

The 7-foot senior center said he thought back to his dreams as a child growing up in Romania, then to NU’s late meltdown in their loss in Ann Arbor last month, in which Olah let a critical rebound slip away in the closing minutes.

And then he reached up, grabbed the ball and, like a soccer player making a throw-in, tossed it into the basket. The purple contingent inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse erupted. Olah, stumbling back from the physically well-contested rebound, slid like a 275-pound sled of elation backwards across the midcourt line.

The clock read 0.1, but Olah’s career with the Wildcats was no longer 0.1 seconds away from ending.

“I always dreamed about making a shot like that,” Olah said. “All I was thinking was the first time we played Michigan, I had a chance to get an offensive rebound and (didn’t). Coach said that was lack of toughness. I decided I would go grab this rebound as quickly as I can and send this game to overtime and it happened.”

The fairy tale ultimately didn’t have a happy ending. Olah didn’t score in the five-minute overtime, and junior forward Nathan Taphorn narrowly missed another buzzer-beating shot, sending the Wolverines on to the third round of the Big Ten Tournament in thrilling fashion.

After the game, Olah — every tenth of a second, every rebound, every point, every butt slide of his NU career now almost certainly behind him — often appeared unsure what to say, what to think.

Asked his emotions about the loss, he stumbled through 10 seconds before any sentence began to formulate. Asked if his family’s presence in the stands had affected him, he first said it hadn’t, then said it had.

“We’re a really good team and I feel like we’re just now playing at our best,” he said with more than a tinge of regret in his voice.

Despite the inevitable reality that NU’s 2016 Big Ten campaign is over, Olah created a moment that will shape and perhaps define his legacy with the Cats for good.

“It was a huge moment for me,” Olah said. “I’ll always remember that shot.”

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