‘Poor Northwestern’ echoed from the selection show committee on Monday afternoon as the Eagles drew St. Thomas for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The University of Northwestern is from conference winless in the tourney, it’s school having earned 5 continuous trips to the dance without a win, and team hungry for respect. There is no doubt Northwestern has earned at least a sliver of respect after last night. Head coach Tim Grosz and the University of Northwestern upset St. Thomas 71-70 in the first round of the National Tournament. The win definitely put Northwestern on the map, and will go down as one of the biggest in school history. The first NCAA Tournament win, and the first win over an opponent ranked in the top 5.
The last time the Eagles played the Tommies was in 2011; round one of the NCAA Tournament. The University of St. Thomas packed its arena in route to a 70-60 victory over Northwestern, and would later cruise through the tournament and win the National Championship. With a 1-9 record against St. Thomas, UNW entered last night’s game fearless. Despite knocking in the game winning shot, Porter Morrell displayed an outstanding performance at Schuldes Sports Center in De Pere, Wisconsin. The sophomore accounted for the Eagles’ first 7 points and would finish with a team high 18. Morrell knocked in a jumper, a 3-pointer, and assisted on a Caleb Janson shot to give Northwestern a 7-2 run in the first ticks of the game. Following the game Morrell said, “We knew that we belonged here before the game, the spark right away was just us saying let’s go let’s do this we do belong here.” Morrell would go on to miss his next five 3-point attempts, but when the game was on the line he came through in thrilling fashion. With defeat 6 seconds away, Porter Morrell hit arguably the biggest shot of his career. Morrell made the game winning 3-point shot submerging into round two of the big dance. Following the Eagles 71-70 win Morrell looked back on his one shot wonder, “it went through the rim and I don’t know what happened after that. I was just so thankful… I got caught up in the moment”.
“There’s a reason they call it March Madness” St. Thomas head coach Johnny Tauer said to the media in postgame. The Tommies were eliminated and tallied just their 5th loss of the 2014-15 campaign. Analyzing the two opponents prior to the contest was easy. Statistics showed high favor to St. Thomas. After last night’s contest, the slate proved to be even. No statistics provide hard evidence for either an advantage to either side. St. Thomas outrebounding Northwestern by 7 and the Eagles won the turnover battle by only giving up 4 turnovers compared to the Tommies’ 10. As for individual numbers, it’s hard to argue they exist in a win like that. The components that fueled the Eagles are far too many to count. Without Cody Sprenger’s 3-pointer at the 25 second mark, Northwestern doesn’t tie the game at 68. Take away Matt Watnemo’s dominant second half of 11 points, Northwestern may not survive the 7-2 St. Thomas run in the 2nd frame. There were a number of weapons Northwestern relied on; each and everyone came through and some in surprising fashion. Michael Carney earned UMAC player of the year honors and has been Northwestern’s leader in scoring average. Last night, the junior dropped in 8 points. Carney’s biggest contribution didn’t show up on his stat line. Carney had the assignment of guarding leading scorer for the Tommies, Marcus Alipate. Alipate’s numbers are similar to Carney’s. Alipate averages 13 points a contest and is icy from behing the arc. Michael Carney held Alipate to a mere 2 first half points and 1-8 shooting from the field. Needless to say, Northwestern needed a team effort and that is exactly what the Eagles got.
All in all, The Eagles escaped round one victor, and are victorious in more ways than one. Those who tuned to Sports Center last night may have been surprised by the arrangement of ESPN’s top plays. ‘Coming in at number 4 on the highlight reel is Northwestern – St. Paul’. Yes, the Eagles and the cardiac kid Porter Morrell made the cut on ESPN and trumped NBA’s Anthony Davis in the ranks of top plays. Despite the media attention, coach Grosz says this win was big not only for the team but for the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference as well. The win was the first UMAC win in NCAA Tournament history. Prior to the game critics questioned the UMAC’s prestige and the reputation it holds.
The answer to their question is in the 71-70 Northwestern win, and that in March, anything can happen.