Written by Tyler Cate
Much like the Disney classic Cinderella, Northwestern is surprising its company at the big dance. Cinderella had her fairy godmother provide a coach and dress for the ball; the spark that has provided the Eagles with confidence, swagger, and the most unselfish basketball is definitely not a godmother but rather a ‘magic’ in the air.
Friday night 100,000 social media impressions were made about the University of Northwestern after they trumped St. Thomas on a buzzer beater advancing them into the round of 32 teams at the Division III National Tournament. Saturday night the Northwestern family checked in via twitter and other platforms, displaying their purple pride as the Eagles hoopers’ entered the ring with Elmhurst College to continue its route through the ranks of March Madness. Northwestern wasn’t the only team to end Friday night in thrilling fashion, the Blue Jays of Elmhurst took the number five team in the nation, St. Norberts College, to three overtimes and came out on top. Saturday evening there was 55 minutes until tipoff when Caleb Janson and Thomas Shephard stepped on to Connie Tilley Court at St. Norberts College in De Pere, Wisconsin. The two seniors entered the arena with a confident strut, and one that showed they were here for a business trip; at that point, if you hadn’t bought into this Eagles basketball program, watching the ‘we belong here’ walk of the two would sway your belief.
Northwestern strolled in and picked up right where they left off Friday night, hopping out to an early 10-4 lead over Elmhurst. Will Gisler started strong with six quick points, and the Eagles looked to be rested and ready. Gisler said, “it’s fun to be able to dish to these guys on the perimeter because anyone of them can knock the shot down.” Elmhurst, however, would battle back and take a lead at the halftime break. The Blue Jays were led by Kyle Wuest who scored 8 first half points to go along with Will Nixon’s 8 points and 6 rebounds; Elmhurst led Northwestern 35-32.
During the break, Eagles bench boss Tim Grosz must’ve said something right because Northwestern would come out in the second half on an absolute terror. Northwestern hit Elmhurst with a swift 11-2 run coming out of the gates and UNW held a 44-37 advantage. The Eagles took their largest lead of 16 late in the half when Blake Van Maanen drilled a deep ball from the corner making the score 56-40. Elmhurst would battle back to a single digit deficit, but the Blue Jays couldn’t fly like the Eagles. With just over two minutes remaining Michael Carney would drop in a three-ball to give the Eagles a ten point edge and also tally his 1,000th career point. The junior said it was very rewarding to score his 1,000th and he’s very thankful to have done it. Carney also addressed the tough defense teams have been playing on him, “ I’m so proud of my teammates… they’ve [opponents] been face guarding me… but we have so many guys that have been stepping up in big ways”. Every one of Carney’s teammates have stepped up for Northwestern, Saturday eight Eagles made a mark in the scoring column but many more added to the action in different ways. Early in the first half, Thomas Shephard took a charge that would give Northwestern the ball back. Caleb Jansen and Kyle Ooms pulled down 9 offensive boards between the two. Tim Grosz and the Eagles came at Elmhurst in waves with multiple weapons. Northwestern would avoid any type of last minute let down as the Eagles controlled a 9-point lead through the final buzzer.
The little school on the lake at the 3003 can celebrate once again because the Eagles defeated Elmhurst 84-75. Coach Grosz wrapped up the feeling after the game, “Unbelievable win for the Eagles, heading to the Sweet Sixteen, that sounds great to say.” Northwestern continues the Cinderella story and the slipper indeed still fits. UNW snags its 18th consecutive dub, and more importantly its 2nd tournament win. The Northwestern program had never won a NCAA Tournament game, and in one weekend the Eagles order two. Not only have the Eagles won the only two tournament games in school history, but also the only two in conference history. The Eagles sported an undefeated slate through the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference yet got all of the support it needed from conference opponents cheering on UNW as it represented the UMAC.
Classy move from Minnesota Morris, St. Scholastica and the rest of the UMAC; the Eagles are not done yet. Northwestern will have five days to rejuvenate and go back to battle on Friday. The pairing is University of Northwestern and East Texas Baptist University in the third round of the Division III National Tourney. The stage is set for the site of the Univsirty U of Wisconsin-Stevens point. Eagles fans need to keep those dancing shoes shiny this week as UNW continues its journey to Salem, Virginia. The Eagles keep dancing.