We have our first game-winning play of the NCAA tournament. Sadly, it was made by a player on the losing team.
With 17 seconds remaining, Vanderbilt scored to go up 66–65 on Northwestern, but Commodores guard Matthew Fisher-Davis didn’t realize the basket had given his team the lead. He intentionally fouled Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh — an 86 percent free throw shooter, the best on either team — which would allow the Wildcats to take the lead.
The jokes about a game between two schools for nerds being decided by an incredibly dumb play were quick and merciless. And yes, it was incredibly dumb: At least Chris Webber had a bench yelling “TIMEOUT” at him in 1993 when he called the timeout Michigan famously didn’t have; Fisher-Davis’s mistake was bolder. Nobody was telling him to foul, and it’s a lot easier to track the score of a game than it is to know how many timeouts you have.
But at least Vandy still had a chance to win. Except Riley LaChance used it to shoot a 30-footer without even attempting to drive.
Remember, Vandy trailed by only one, and didn’t need a 3.
As a Northwestern fan, I’ll take the win. I’ve seen Northwestern make plenty of dumb plays; there’s a reason this was the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance and win. After this, I can see what all the hype is about. (Don’t blame me for all the shots of Julia Louis-Dreyfus.)
The magic of March, though, is buzzer-beaters, not brainfarts. Fisher-Davis scored 14 points in the second half to put Vanderbilt in a position to win after they trailed by double digits late. It’s unfortunate that what will be remembered is his screw-up.
Fisher-Davis’s poor decision helped Vanderbilt lose. But it was preceded by an equally poor decision by coach Bryce Drew, who, you know, actually gets paid to make decisions during basketball games.
Drew might not be Vanderbilt’s coach if it hadn’t been for a timeout. When he was a player, his Valparaiso Crusaders were trailing against Ole Miss, and his dad, Homer Drew, called a timeout. The elder Drew drew up a play, and you’ve seen that play a hundred million times in commercials. Bryce became a legend; Homer got to coach for as long as he wanted; when Homer retired, he handed off coaching duties to his sons, first Scott, then Bryce, who was successful enough to get hired at Vandy.
Today, Drew used his final timeout with seven minutes remaining. It might have been a good timeout, as Vandy trailed by seven at that point and rallied to lead. But it meant he didn’t get a chance to tell his players the score late in the game. And maybe if he’d had that timeout, he would have drawn up a final play that would have let one of Vandy’s players become their own NCAA tournament legend. Instead, nothing was doing as LaChance stood around and chucked up a 30-footer.
Fisher-Davis will spend the rest of his life remembering the time his mental mistake cost his team an NCAA tournament game, but Drew will be coaching for a long time after this.