Big Ten

Vanderbilt's inexplicable foul helps Northwestern advance: 'I didn't know why he did that'

Vanderbilt's inexplicable foul helps Northwestern advance: 'I didn't know why he did that'

SALT LAKE CITY — No one really knew what happened. And then within minutes Twitter had dubbed it one of the most bone-headed plays in NCAA tournament history.

Vanderbilt had just taken a one-point lead on Northwestern with 18 seconds to play in Thursday's first-round game in the NCAA tournament. And once the Wildcats inbounded the ball, Commodores guard Matthew Fisher-Davis fouled Bryant McIntosh to send him to the free-throw line.

Wait, what?

Fisher-Davis clearly made a mistake, and after the game it was revealed he didn't know his team was winning at the time. Certainly that would have had to be the case in order for him to do what he did.

The magnitude of his error became instantly obvious when McIntosh knocked down his two free throws to first tie the game and then to give Northwestern a one-point lead in the final seconds. Vandy missed a go-ahead 3-point try at the other end, and that was that. The Cats won, and the Commodores were going home.

Still, no one really knew what happened.

"At first I thought I had made the mistake, thinking we were up one and they needed to foul," McIntosh said. "I was pushing the ball up the floor, and when they fouled I looked at the clock and was just kind of shocked, didn't understand it. At that point, I had to just shift my focus to making the free throws. It doesn’t matter if I don’t make them."

"Honestly, I didn't know why he did that," Sanjay Lumpkin said. "I actually said to (Vanderbilt guard Nolan) Cressler at the free-throw line when (McIntosh) was about to shoot the free throws — I didn't really see it, I asked him why he did that. He goes, 'Dude, I have no idea.'"

In the end, it will go down as a game-saving moment for Northwestern and a game-costing one for Vandy.

And for Fisher-Davis to be the goat is a tough turn of events for a guy who helped fuel the Commodores' comeback from a 15-point second-half deficit. He scored 14 points in the second half, more than twice of any of his teammates, and hit two huge 3-pointers.

"He made a mistake at the end, yeah, I mean I'm not sure what happened," Vandy's Luke Kornet said. "He's the type of person that he feels some blame for it. The second half, we had no chance if he didn't make some of the shots that he did. I just wanted to let him know that we're with him no matter what. Every single one of us and what our team is, I'm going to make mistakes and everybody is going to be around me and supporting me and vice versa. That was just how it was."

"It could have been a miscommunication," Vandy coach Bryce Drew said. "He looked over at me before. But one play doesn't lose the game for you. And I'm proud of the guys fighting back and being in that situation. Without him we're not even close to being in that situation at the end."

It ended up turning into another one of the biggest moments in program history for a Northwestern team playing in its first NCAA tournament. The Cats advanced to play top-seeded Gonzaga in Saturday's second-round game.

So whether you want to say they benefited from a screw-up or were in the right place at the right time, they'll take the win.

"Hey, at the end of the day," Vic Law said, "I'm glad he fouled him."

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Professional, collegiate and prep sports have been on hold in Illinois since mid-March but it looks like there may be more light at the end of the tunnel. This time, in Evanston.

Northwestern University announced Thursday that a phased reopening of the athletic department, in tandem with NU’s overall policy for a return to campus, will include student athlete workouts on Monday June 22.

The relaunch of athletics at Northwestern during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the state of Illinois is progressing in its own planned reopening, as dictated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sports medicine staff, athletic trainers and student-athletes with post-injury needs were welcomed back earlier this month and other select groups will be admitted back to campus next week.

Athletes will be required to complete a full physical upon arrival in Evanston on June 22. They will be screened before entering on-site facilities by means of a wellness check and a no-touch temperature scan.

Facility access will be managed through one entrance and exit. Locker facilities and lounges will remain closed, though, along with dining centers.

[MORE: Shortened NFL preseason puts big group of players at a disadvantage]

The Wildcats football team, along with both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, are penciled in to begin those voluntary workouts a week from Monday. Each unit should have plenty of motivation once they hit the playing surface.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and company are eager to put last year’s 3-9 mark behind them. On the hardwood, Chris Collins’ group needs a quick bounce-back after an 8-23 mark last season while the women’s team, under the tutelage of Big Ten Coach of the Year Joe McKeown, are looking to build off a stellar 2019-20 campaign. They won the their first conference championship since 1989-90 and boasted a school record 26 wins.

 

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