Men’s Basketball: Wildcats fall in overtime heartbreaker at Big Ten Tournament in bitter end to season


Sam Schumacher/The Daily Northwestern

Alex Olah prepares to make a move. The senior center sank a fadeaway jumper with 0.1 seconds left to send Thursday's game into overtime.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

INDIANAPOLIS — Alex Olah wasn’t ready to see his career come to a close. Nor was he ready to let the Wildcats’ season end in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. So when Tre Demps’ attempt at a game-tying jump shot in the final seconds against Michigan missed its mark, the senior center guaranteed that Northwestern would stay alive for at least another period with a putback to send the game into overtime.

But the Wolverines’ Zak Irvin had other ideas. The Michigan guard broke a tie with 3 seconds remaining in overtime to give Michigan a 72-70 victory and send the Cats packing.

“I’m really proud of my team. I thought we battled like crazy. Just really disappointed that our run ends here,” coach Chris Collins said.

Demps, Olah and sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh — NU’s three leaders — each seemed to take charge at different points throughout the contest.

The three scored 60 of NU’s 70 points, with Demps leading the way with 21. Olah scored 20 and grabbed 13 rebounds while McIntosh notched 19.

After much anticipation following three consecutive close contests against the Wolverines, NU failed to deliver in the opening minutes. After Demps opened the scoring with a 3, Michigan’s defenders refused to allow the senior guard an inch of breathing space, and as the Cats’ offensive prospects dried up, the Wolverines began to pull away, one 3-pointer at a time.

Five minutes in, NU found itself down 16-3 without an ounce of momentum or rhythm on either end of the floor. But McIntosh wasn’t ready to see his season effectively come to an end after one half. The sophomore led his Cats on a 10-0 run, scoring 7 straight and connecting from deep to cut Michigan’s lead to 23-21 at the under-8 timeout.

NU, though, failed to take control, ending the period shooting just 25 percent from the field. But Michigan also struggled to find consistency on the offensive end, and despite plenty of opportunities, failed to emerge with anything more than a 34-25 lead entering the break.

The second half began on a similar note, with the Wildcats failing to pass the Wolverines and Michigan unable to extend its lead.

But in front of his family for just the second time in his NU career, Olah found his rhythm. And with less than 6 minutes remaining, the senior center connected on a layup to even the score at 52.

“Just the urgency of — if we don’t win, this is going to be my last game,” Olah said regarding what prompted his second-half resurgence. “I wanted to leave everything on the floor”

And when McIntosh connected from 3 moments later to give the Cats a 1-point lead, 55-54, the contest began to resemble the barnburners that preceded it. But Michigan edged ahead of NU in the game’s final moments, leading 60-58 with less than 15 seconds remaining after a missed free throw by Michigan forward Duncan Robinson.

That miss set the stage for Olah’s heroics, as he closed an incredible second half effort by putting back Demps’ missed attempt to send the contest into overtime.

“(Tre) got a great shot at the end of regulation and I thought he hit it, and Olah made a great rebound and tipped it back in,” said McIntosh, who will command a greater spotlight in the absence of the two seniors next year. “Hopefully I can learn a little bit from that, just having that killer instinct.”

But Irvin’s pullup jumper sealed NU’s fate after a back-and-forth overtime period. Junior forward Nathan Taphorn’s final attempt to beat the buzzer missed short, and the Cats’ Big Ten Tournament run came to a close after just one game.

Barring a postseason appearance, the loss concludes a watershed season for NU, who in Collins’ third year, won 20 games in the regular season for the first time in program history.

“We’re two good teams — two teams that deserved to win that game, honestly,” Collins said. “I’m really proud of my guys. We don’t have that brand name on our chest, but we play good basketball. We’re a good team now.”

This story was updated with postgame quotes.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @GarrettJochnau