NU saw its second-half lead vanish, and after a back-and-forth final minutes, followed by overtime, the Wildcats would fall short. No. 13 Michigan would beat Northwestern, 66-64.
As Northwestern seeks its first ever NCAA tournament berth, it can only hope to not regret another missed opportunity.
"We knew it was going to be an important game, that's why it hurts even more to lose it," said Drew Crawford after the loss.
The loss is especially painful for the Wildcats because it was the third loss this season in which they have owned a second-half lead, only to see it slip away.
"It hurts," Crawford said. "Especially in a close game, where it comes down to the wire and either team can win it. When you don't come out on top, it's tough."
Michigan charged back in the second half, erasing an eight-point deficit. Northwestern went cold in the final eight minutes, posting just four points. The Wolverines would tie the score with 2:04 remaining on a Tim Hardaway, Jr. three-pointer.
Both teams had their chances to win the game. Hardaway was called for a costly foul on Reggie Hearn, giving Northwestern a chance for what would have been the game-winning shot. As Drew Crawford drove for a shot, he drew contact, but was called for a travel.
"I wanted to get the ball to Crawford and let him do something with it," NU head coach Bill Carmody said of the final play. "They made a good play."
With 1.5 remaining on the clock, Michigan's full-court heave was deflected away, sending the game to overtime.
With the score tied at 58, Michigan point guard Trey Burke hit a go-ahead jumper. Northwestern trailed by three points with time for one more play. Junior guard and Michigan native Alex Marcotullio was fouled on a game-tying three-point attempt with 0.3 on the clock. However, he would miss the first shot.
Marcotullio would hit the second free throw, but the Wildcats were unable to convert on a tip-in on the final free throw attempt.
Northwestern would shoot 50 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from beyond the arc, while Michigan posted just 33.3 percent from the field, but on 66 attempts. The difference in the stat sheet were rebounds—where Michigan posted 17 offensive rebounds—and turnovers, as NU finished with 16 giveaways.
In a close game, there are so many different plays where you think ‘this, and you can win the game,'" said Carmody. "We turned the ball over too much."
Carmody would shift away from the three-guard set, and put Davide Curletti in the game during the first half. Mirkovic would enter the contest with over four minutes remaining in the first half, and Curletti did not return.
Mirkovic would play 18 minutes, but appeared unmotivated at times. At one point in the second half, on a loose rebound, he did not jump for the ball. A visibly frustrated Carmody struggled to explain that error, simply explaining, "I've seen that before."
Northwestern has just one win over a Top-25 opponent this season, that coming against Seton Hall in the Charleston Classic championship game. After another missed opportunity, NU is in desperate need of a marquee, tournament résumé-boosting win.
The Wildcats return home to face No. 6 Michigan State on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 2 CT. from Welsh-Ryan Arena.
• Northwestern continues to battle injury issues. Sophomore guard Jershon Cobb surely could have been used in a rotation with the three-guard lineup, but was unavailable due to a hip ailment. Alex Marcotullio was battling through pain in his foot during the game, which is why he was removed through much of the second half.
• Bill Carmody called three timeouts in a stretch of a minute during the second half. There was no inspiring motivational speech, though. He said, "I just wanted to stop the noise, that's all." It would work, however, as the Wildcats reeled off six straight points.
• Michigan head coach John Belein used Northwestern's high RPI as a pregame motivational factor, comparing the Wildcats to some of the nation's elite teams. "This isn't your grandfather's Northwestern, this is a really good team," Belein said to his team before the game.