EVANSTON — Northwestern is trying to make program history.
So why not take a big step toward doing just that in the style of the greatest moment in college hoops history?
In a finish that mimicked Christian Laettner's famed game-winning bucket for Duke in 1992, Nathan Taphorn's court-length pass to Dererk Pardon ended with the sophomore big man beating the buzzer to send Northwestern to a 67-65 win over Michigan on Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The win, a program-record 21st on the season, stopped a slump that saw the Cats lose five of their previous seven games and send their NCAA tournament hopes into question. Beating a red-hot Michigan team in such dramatic fashion might just lock Northwestern into the tournament field for the first time in program history.
The Cats led by as much as 11 in the first half but held just a two-point advantage at the break. But an extremely entertaining second half followed, with both teams scoring at incredible frequency. Northwestern's narrow lead was finally eclipsed when Michigan point guard Derrick Walton Jr. nailed a triple to put the Wolverines in front, and his four-point play tied the game at 52 moments later. The teams jockeyed from there, with a layup off a controversial possession-arrow situation giving Michigan a brief two-point edge. Scottie Lindsey countered not long after with a sensational reverse layup to tie the game at 60 with under four minutes left.
After a Moe Wagner free throw, Bryant McIntosh and Zak Irvin traded baskets, and Pardon's free throw tied the game at 63. Wagner went to the free-throw line to try to give Michigan a lead, but the officials whistled the Wolverines for a lane violation, giving the ball to the Cats. Sanjay Lumpin got a layup at the other end to give Northwestern a 65-63 lead with under two minutes to play, only for Irvin to get his own rebound and put in a game-tying basket.
After a couple of misses from McIntosh, Irvin missed a potential game-winning 3-point try, setting up the Cats at the opposite end of the floor from the basket with 1.7 seconds remaining. Each team took a timeout before Taphorn heaved the ball to Pardon, who caught it and scored off the glass as time expired.
The win sent Northwestern to 21-9 on the season and 10-7 in Big Ten play. The victory should be enough to keep the Cats off the NCAA tournament bubble. Northwestern wraps its regular-season schedule against Purdue on Sunday before heading to Washington for next week's Big Ten Tournment.
Meanwhile, Michigan — also looking to lock up a spot in the tourney field — dropped to 19-11 overall and 9-8 in the league.