By Jake Lourim, Managing Sports Editor
Published March 3, 2015
EVANSTON — Spike Albrecht, the Michigan men’s basketball team’s best free-throw shooter, had just hit three free throws in two trips to put the Wolverines up by six with 16.1 seconds to play in overtime.
Hundreds of Northwestern fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena grabbed their coats and headed for the exits. The energy left the building with them. All that remained was a chorus of “The Victors” from the Michigan fans in attendance and ready to close out the game.
But nobody told the Wildcats, who went on to win in double overtime, 82-78.
Redshirt junior guard Tre Demps, Northwestern’s late-game hero, raced down the court after a missed free throw and drained a 3-pointer with nine ticks left. After Michigan threw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds pass, 7.7 seconds remained on the clock.
That left the Wolverines with a decision to make. Demps, a 33-percent 3-point shooter heading into Tuesday, had just hit a triple. He had also drained a 27-foot step-back 3-pointer at the end of regulation.
Faced with a second chance, Michigan again chose to defend and not foul.
“He sure as hell wasn’t going to hit another one,” junior guard Spike Albrecht recalled thinking.
Added Michigan coach John Beilein: “After he made that first one from deep, I just said, ‘Maybe let’s try and do it this one time.’ I’ve never done it before. But they were united.”
Not in Beilein’s 38-year coaching career could he recall anything like what happened next.
But Demps ran off a screen and found himself with just enough room in the corner, where he drilled another game-tying 3-pointer to send the game into another extra session.
In double overtime, the momentum shifted to the other extreme. The Michigan fans started to head out, the Northwestern faithful exploded and the Wildcats (6-11 Big Ten, 15-15 overall) finished off a thrilling win shortly before midnight Tuesday night.
The teams’ momentum carried over into double overtime, when Northwestern center Alex Olah hit a 3-pointer on the first possession. Michigan sophomore forward Zak Irvin kept the Wolverines in the game with a triple at the 1:36 mark, but Northwestern’s Vic Law answered with another at the other end.
Irvin again knocked down a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left, but the Wildcats hit the ensuing two free throws and Michigan couldn’t muster another basket.
Irvin finished with a career-high 28 points and 11 rebounds. He also shot 9-for-10 from the foul line, hitting clutch shots down the stretch in regulation as the Wolverines (7-10 Big Ten, 14-15 overall) had Northwestern down to its last gasp in regulation. When the Wildcats’ Bryant McIntosh stepped on the baseline with 14.4 seconds to play in a three-point game, the fans started to leave for the first time.
But Demps brought them back with his miracle heave with 2.5 seconds left, and they stayed to watch a 39-minute defensive slugfest turn into a high-intensity heavyweight fight for the final 11.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you — I had my head down,” Irvin said. “My teammates were right there, and the coaching staff was right there: ‘Hey, we got overtime — we got another five minutes to play.’ ”
There always seemed to be five more minutes to play for the teams that came into Tuesday below .500 in the Big Ten. Between two teams that have suffered their fair share of heartbreaking losses this season, the Wildcats dealt the Wolverines another such defeat.
“We’ve been in a lot of games like this, but this one definitely hurts,” Irvin said. “Just how well we played, how hard we fought, I really wanted this one, especially getting toward the end of the season.”
Northwestern scored five quick points in the first minute of overtime, bringing to mind Michigan’s last two overtime defeats in double-digit fashion at Michigan State and Illinois.
The Wolverines quickly stymied those flashbacks, stringing together 3-pointers by Irvin, Albrecht and freshman guard Aubrey Dawkins. After that stretch, they led by three with 1:02 left, and extended it to six with three free throws by Albrecht.
But Northwestern wasn’t done yet — not until it had finished the victory and sent its seniors streaming into the student section on Senior Night, not until the Wolverines walked off the floor saddled with another devastating loss.
“There’s been maybe 10 times over 1,100, 1,200 games, that has happened, when (they tie) it with a 3 or you lose it with a 3,” Beilein said. “To have it happen twice in the same game? That’s a new one for me.”