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The “Catournament” Journal: A initiation into March Madness

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 16: Bryant McIntosh #30 of the Northwestern Wildcats celebrates with teammates after defeating the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 16, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – A list of alumni who’ve gone onto create drama on the big or small screen reads like a who’s who.

Ann-Margret, Warren Beatty, Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Schwimmer. The list goes on and on – just see for yourself.

These are people who have made performance their life’s work – and done quite well. They got the knowledge of how the entertainment business works in Evanston and have taken their talents to the world.

Still, these professionals might have been hard pressed to craft the drama that played out on the court at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Thursday. Seriously, to think it would play out like that would have been too Hollywood for Hollywood.

“Obviously your stomach is churning, because you want it so badly,” said Collins of the final moments of his team’s first NCAA Tournament game in history against Vanderbilt on Thursday.

The coach knows something about that, since he played and coach in NCAA Tournaments before. Yet the fan base hadn’t and neither had any of his players, knowing the tournament only off what they saw on TV.

Nothing like a baptism by fire. The players and fans got that over 40 memorable minutes that made these “March Madness” amateurs look like pros.

With a gallery mainly clad in purple, the inspired Wildcats grabbed as much as a 15-point lead in the second half. This was the opening storyline, then came the twist of a late rally by the Commodores. That advantage at 13:41 was down two at 5:09 and then Vanderbilt got the lead for the first with 1:36 left on a three-pointer by Riley LaChance.

Six lead changes would follow, each with a plot of their own.

The fourth came from Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon – a 54-percent free throw shooter who managed to knock down a pair under pressure.

“And that’s a testament of the work he does, hundreds and hundreds of free throws,” said Collins of Pardon – who made six-straight free throws in the second half.

Change No. 5 came on a LaChance layup with 17 seconds left that was quickly erased on an inexplicable foul by Vanderbilt’s Michael Fisher-Davis. He was to be the hero for the Commodores having scored 22 points off the bench, but miscommunication made him the unfortunate goat.

“it was my dumb mistake why we lost,” said Fisher-Davis afterwards, admitting that he though his team was behind and needed to foul.

The man whom he hacked then became the hero. Bryant McIntosh – who had 23 points at that point – stepped to the line down one with the game on the line with 14 seconds left.

Down went one free throw, down went another.

“You don’t really imagine being down one and getting fouled very often. You envision yourself hitting the game winner,” said McIntosh of his game-winning shots from the charity stripe. “But to be able to do that at the free throw line was very relaxing.”

For the moment since Vanderbilt got LaChance a clean shot to hit a go-ahead three. Yet it was off the mark, bouncing out-of-bounds and giving the ball to Northwestern with just over a second left. The Commodores fouled Sanjay Lumpkin on the inbounds but he made just one of two, giving Vanderbilt one last heave.

It was short. Northwestern 68 Vanderbilt 66. Welcome to March Madness, Wildcats.

“The atmosphere overall was amazing,” said McIntosh. “To see all the purple and the pride they had, and the strength and courage that they could give us as they went on a run late in the second half was a tremendous help. And hopefully they can stick around for a little bit longer.”

You can bet they will, even if the sequel will have a hard time topping the original.