No. 11 Michigan earned a 67-55 overtime victory over the Wildcats, placing it in contention for a Big Ten regular-season title. As for Northwestern, it was another heartbreaker; one which may pop its NCAA tournament bubble.
As the Wolverines jumped to a double-digit overtime lead, Wildcat fans left Welsh-Ryan Arena with their heads hanging. The sensations of the emotional contest turned into a harsh feeling of defeat. A painfully familiar feeling.
Both Northwestern and Michigan were jockeying for postseason positioning. The back-and-forth intensity of the game was evident.
"I think the game—the spirit of the game, and the enthusiasm—reflected that," Michigan head coach John Beilein said to the media after the game.
Neither team could take advantage of their go-ahead shots in the final minute. Jershon Cobb missed a three-pointer, then Trey Burke's well-defended heave missed the rim as the buzzer sounded. The evenly-matched game was forced to an extra period.
Northwestern was plagued by a slow start at the start of each half, and such was the case in overtime.
By the time the Wildcats scored their first point in overtime—nearly three minutes into the stanza—Michigan had connected on three 3-pointers, taking a nine-point lead. The Wolverines would hit 9 of 11 free throws to help secure their victory.
"I think it was more (a feeling of) excitement than anxiety," Curletti said. "We were loud in the locker room, we were ready to go. We came out with a great desire to win."
John Shurna struggled with his team needing a boost. The Big Ten's leading scorer posted just 14 points on 6-of-16 from the field. Drew Crawford, NU's second-leading scorer, was held out in overtime due to a leg injury suffered in the first half.
Northwestern's offense was inefficient without its two top scorers leading the way.
Reggie Hearn carried the load in lieu of Shurna and Crawford, posting a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Wildcats likely need to win their final three contests to secure a seed in the NCAA tournament. That means earning road victories against Penn State (on Saturday) and Iowa, plus getting an upset over Ohio State.
"I think we'll be fine," said Hearn "I think we still have a lot to play for, definitely. This was a tough loss but I think we got to look at it as we fought hard, we had a chance to get a resume-building win, but we still have a lot left to play for."
Northwestern is down, but not out, though its chances to make history are fading quickly.