Alex Olah and Tre Demps gave all they had.
The two seniors left everything on the floor but fell just short Thursday, as Northwestern (20-12, 8-10 B1G) lost a 72-70 OT heartbreaker to Michigan (21-11, 10-8 B1G) in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
It all started with the big man. With NU down 59-55 and just 18 seconds remaining in regulation, Olah miraculously knocked down a three-pointer to pull the Wildcats within one. And he wasn’t done.
After a Michigan missed free throw, with NU trailing 60-58, a Demps jumper rimmed out on the final possession of the game, and all looked to be lost. But Olah grabbed the ball and put it back up, beating the buzzer and sending a game the 'Cats had trailed for the majority of into overtime.
In overtime, it was Demps’ turn. Down 67-63 with 2:06 to play, the clutch senior guard drained a three-pointer. On the next possession, Demps got to the rim for a layup, giving the ‘Cats a 68-67 lead. Two Nathan Taphorn free throws extended the lead to 70-67, and it looked like NU might pull out the victory.
But then Michigan’s Duncan Robinson, who had 21 points, stuck a contested three-pointer, tying the game at 70. Then Bryant McIntosh missed a runner. And then, the dagger. Cold-blooded Michigan guard Zak Irvin, who had 19 points, crushed NU’s hopes, nailing a jumper with just three seconds left. A late Taphorn three-pointer attempt was no good, and Michigan secured the 72-70 OT victory.
For the Wildcats, the loss confirms another year without a NCAA Tournament appearance. But head coach Chris Collins has seen the immense growth of his team over the past three years - especially in Olah and Demps.
“For what those guys have done for me the past three years, I could never repay them,” Collins said. “They have given me everything. I feel I have given them everything. We have gotten better. And I think that showed today.”
Olah, who finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, came so close to willing the ‘Cats to victory.
“I did not want to lose this game …” Olah said. “Just the urgency of if we don't win, it's going to be my last game. I wanted to win this game and keep playing. And I'm also a senior leader, and I wanted to leave everything on the floor.”
Demps finished with 21 points, shooting 5-for-11 from three-point range. McIntosh also added 19 points. Olah, Demps and McIntosh combined for 60 of NU’s 70 points, carrying the team all day.
Olah, Demps and Collins were all emotional after the game. In what has been a successful yet heartbreaking season, the two seniors have truly left everything on the floor.
“We've been through so much,” Demps said. “This University has done so much for me and Alex. I think the first thing, when you have a deep connection, is just emotions, when you care about something.”
While a NCAA Tournament bid will not happen, NU has played well enough this year to be worthy of postseason consideration, most likely in the form of a NIT or Vegas 16 invite. Regardless, the Wildcats should be proud of their improvement each year under Collins, especially Olah and Demps, who have been there for it all.
“I think it shows how far we have come,” Collins said. “And they should be really proud of what they have done for our program. As we move forward, I hope they feel when we do accomplish the things that we want to accomplish, I hope they feel great pride, because they will be a big part of it, a big reason why.”