Gophers beat Wildcats in OT

Published 9:03am Friday, March 9, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern had one goal this season — earning the school’s first NCAA tournament bid.

The Wildcats can’t do anything more to help themselves now.

When their best shooters went cold at the wrong time Thursday, Northwestern failed to wrap up a key first-round Big Ten tournament victory and wound up falling 75-68 in overtime to 10th-seeded Minnesota — a loss that could send the Wildcats back to the NIT.

All they can do now is wait for the other conference tournaments to play out and hope everything breaks their way.

“It’s just every emotion you think, the staff and the players. It’s beyond frustrating,” Wildcats coach Bill Carmody said. “It’s just very hard right now. I don’t know what else to say, you know, I thought the effort was there tonight, it just didn’t work out. The ball didn’t bounce right for us.”

No, it didn’t have to be like this.

The Wildcats (18-13) lost by eight in overtime against Michigan on Feb. 21, and lost 75-73 on Feb. 29 against Ohio State. Winning either game against those ranked teams would have solidified their position with the selection committee.

But with one win or possibly two in Indianapolis, Northwestern looked like it might still sneak in.

The problem: Northwestern made only one basket over the final 9:53, missed an opportunity to win it with a buzzer-beater at the end of regulation and got outscored 6-0 in the final minute of overtime — a crushing blow that caused so much heartache Northwestern’s players begrudgingly lined up to shake hands with Minnesota’s players after the clock hit all zeroes.

“This is probably the closest, as far as the bubble goes, we’ve stayed on the bubble here the entire team,” John Shurna said after scoring 21 points. “It was a game we wanted to win, it wouldn’t have put us in but a loss doesn’t mean we’re out.”

JerShon Cobb finished with a career-high 24 points to lead Northwestern, which went 3-3 over its final six games and will anxiously await Sunday night’s tourney draw to see if it has done enough to make the 68-team field.

Minnesota (19-13), meanwhile, will continue to try and play its way into the draw.

Next up is No. 10 Michigan, one of three teams to share the league’s regular-season crown. A victory in Friday’s quarterfinal round would give coach Tubby Smith win No. 100 since coming to Minneapolis, and could revitalize Smith’s magical postseason touch. He’s now 35-14 all-time in conference tourneys and 7-4 in Big Ten play.