Birthday boy Bryant McIntosh scored a career high 32 points and dished out six assists as Northwestern (3-0) erased an early deficit to topple Columbia (1-2) 83-80 in a thrilling overtime contest on Friday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
On a night when the 'Cats were consistently forced to crawl out of large deficits seemingly completely on the shoulders of their sophomore point guard, it's only fitting that McIntosh was the one to will in a fadeaway game-tying jumper with 40 seconds left, and the one whose clutch long-range jumper gave NU a crucial 82-78 lead with 24 seconds left in overtime. With a 5-for-6 three-point shooting performance to boot, McIntosh celebrated his 21st birthday in a way most kids from Indiana (ok, Hoosiers) could only dream of.
"Our guards were fantastic," head coach Chris Collins said. "Pretty good 21st birthday for B-Mac. 32 points and six assists while being hounded the whole game."
It was tough sledding for the 'Cats from the start as the Lions jumped out to a 17-5 lead, withstood a Wildcast resurgence after NU tied it at 26 and went on a 9-2 run to take a 35-28 lead to the locker room. The beginning of the second half mirrored the beginning of the first half, as Columbia grabbed a 44-32 lead and appeared to be on the edge of running away with it. Enter Gavin Skelly.
In his first time seeing action since last week's opener against UMass-Lowell, the sophomore forward gave the 'Cats valuable defensive minutes, shutting down formerly hot forward Alex Rosenberg, blocking two Lion shots and scoring five valuable points.
"I saw that we weren't playing hard and we had no energy-givers out there," Skelly said. "That's one reason I got recruited, because I'm able to do that for this team."
His first bucket, a classic "and-one" play, cut NU's deficit to six when the game seemed to hang in the balance. However, even after that slight momentum swing, Columbia extended its lead back out to eight, 71-63 with just 3:39 left.
But NU refused to go down without a fight, going on a 10-3 extended run with help from Skelly's second bucket, a dunk with a little over a minute remaining, that pulled NU within two points at 74-72. Skelly pulled down a rebound on Columbia's ensuing possession that set up McIntosh's game-tying shot. Tre Demps, who finished with a not-too-shabby 22 points, had a chance to send Welsh-Ryan into a frenzy with a game-winnng step back shot (his specialty), but missed off the front of the rim to send the game to OT.
In the overtime period, it was a battle of free throws, with an Aaron Falzon make from the charity stripe giving the 'Cats their first lead of the game, 75-74, with 3:36 left. NU was holding onto a slim 77-76 lead until Demps knocked down a three and McIntosh responded to two Columbia free throws with what would turn out to be a game-icing long-range jumper.
"He's playing on a whole other level," Demps said. "He's just very involved, shooting the ball and driving the ball. We're a team with strength in numbers and him playing this well is going to open up things for everybody."
The 'Cats will face their toughest test yet on Monday when they travel to Kansas City to take on the No. 1 UNC Tar Heels in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.