SALT LAKE CITY - It's a moment that fans in Evanston have been waiting for since the inception of the NCAA Tournament - a chance to play in it.
Northwestern finally got that shot on Thursday, facing Vanderbilt in Vivint Smart Home Arena. It was a game that was worth the wait as the 8th and 9th seeds battled down the stretch in one of the best games so far in the NCAA Tournament.
Luckily for Wildcats fans, it was a successful one as Northwestern beat Vanderbilt 68-66 Thursday afternoon in a thriller in Salt Lake City.
A wild finish featured six lead changes in the final 1:36 seconds as the teams traded baskets and free throws. In the end it was a pair of free throws by guard Bryant McIntosh with 14 seconds left that came after a poorly-timed foul were the difference as the Wildcats picked up their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.
Northwestern now prepares for their second round game on Saturday against West Region top seed Gonzaga on Saturday. The time of the game has yet to be determined.
McIntosh led the way with 25 points and started the wild finish with a jumper at 1:14 that gave Northwestern a 63-62 lead. It followed a 28-12 run by the Commodores that erased a 15-point Wildcats second half lead.
Jeff Robertson gave Vanderbilt the lead back with a hoop of his own with 39 seconds left but a foul on the next possession gave Dererk Pardon a pair of free throws. He hit both to give the Wildcats the lead back but Riley LaChance immediately made a layup with 17 seconds left to give the Commodores the lead back.
As McIntosh made his way up the floor after the hoop, Matthew Fisher-Davis inadvertently fouled the guard. That put the guard on the line and he hit a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left.
Vanderbilt got one more chance to win the game on the last possession but LaChance's three-point attempt bounced off the rim and out of bounds. The Commodores fouled Sanjay Lumpkin who made 1-of-2 free throws to seal the victory that was decades in the making for Northwestern and their fans.