SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — At Northwestern, the party goes on.
At Vanderbilt, there is only one question: What was he thinking?
Northwestern’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, 68-66 over Vanderbilt, came after Commodores guard Matthew Fisher-Davis inexplicably grabbed Bryant McIntosh of the Wildcats on purpose, sending McIntosh to the free throw line for the go-ahead points with 14.6 seconds left.
“I actually thought we were down one,” Fisher-Davis explained after Thursday’s heartbreaker in the West region. “Coach … pointed at him, but he was just telling me that was my matchup. I took it as (I should) foul.”
And though Fisher-Davis scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half to help ninth-seeded Vandy (19-16) rally from 15 points down, his mistake was the main takeaway from this game — maybe not as bad as Chris Webber calling a timeout that Michigan didn’t have or Georgetown’s Fred Brown throwing the pass to James Worthy of North Carolina in the final, but certainly not one for the “One Shining Moment” video, either.
“An honest mistake,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins called it. “You feel bad for players. He was tremendous today. Certainly, I was surprised.”
The sequence was set up after Riley LaChance made a layup with 17.8 seconds remaining to put the Commodores up by one.
But seconds after the in-bounds pass, Fisher-Davis reached out and grabbed McIntosh around the waist while the Northwestern guard was dribbling up the backcourt. That put eighth-seeded Northwestern in the double bonus, and McIntosh went to the line and calmly swished the free throws with 14.6 seconds left for a 67-66 lead.
“When he grabbed me, I had thought we were down one, and I’m thinking maybe I made a mistake,” he said. “I had to put my mind on making the free throws at the end.”
Northwestern forced LaChance to miss a 3 on the next possession and the Wildcats made (24-11) another free throw.
Fisher-Davis heaved a desperation shot at the buzzer, but it missed, and he sunk his head and reached down to his shoes in despair before heading to the sideline where his teammates hugged him.
While the Wildcats doused Collins with water to celebrate a win that extends the program’s first trip to March Madness by at least one more game, there were red eyes in the Vanderbilt locker room. But Fisher-Davis’ teammates had his back.
“He’s the type of person (who’s going to) feel some blame,” forward Luke Kornet said. “But in the second half, we have no chance if he doesn’t make the shots that he made. We’re with him no matter what.”
Coach Bryce Drew, who enjoyed a much different moment decades ago as a player , said certainly he and his star guard would talk more in the near future. His message in the aftermath was simple: “From Day 1, we teach our guys that we’re a team and one play at the end … doesn’t win or lose the game.”
Fisher-Davis, a junior who led the SEC in 3-point shooting last season, tried to keep it in perspective.
“We all love each other like brothers,” he said. “They know I didn’t do that on purpose, obviously. We had a great season. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
MCINTOSH MOMENT: McIntosh said he, like most players, has always dreamed about scoring the winning points in March Madness. Just not quite that way. “You don’t imagine yourself down one and being fouled. You envision yourself hitting the game-winner. But to be able to do that at the free throw line was relaxing.” The junior led the Wildcats with 25 points.
FISHER-DAVIS SCORES: Fisher-Davis hit two 3-pointers during a 12-0 run that kept Vanderbilt in it after falling behind by 15 with 13 minutes left. He also had back-to-back buckets and made all three free throws after being fouled on a 3 to pull Vandy within 59-58 at the 2:40 mark.
ON HAND: Collins called the pro-Wildcats crowd one of the best he’s seen at the tournament. He played at Duke. “When you dream about these games, you don’t dream about losing them. You don’t dream about playing scared. You don’t dream about being timid. You dream about playing with confidence, and you dream about winning,” he said.
UP NEXT: Northwestern will play top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round of the West Region on Saturday.