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Northwestern coach Chris Collins ran onto the court screaming, furious after Gonzaga forward Zach Collins had reached through the net and rejected a Northwestern shot.
Goaltending wasn't called by the referees with 4:54 left on the Dererk Pardon shot but a technical on Chris Collins was.
Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss made both free throws and Northwestern's momentum after cutting the deficit to five and what should have been three was dashed.
The NCAA released a statement after the game that the call should have been goaltending, an officiating decision that will make Northwestern's Cinderella tournament appearance feel like the clock ran out before midnight.
"It would have been a three-point game. We had all the momentum, a guy puts his hand through the rim, it's a very easy call in my opinion," Collins said. "But it's an honest mistake. Referees are human beings, they're here for a reason because they're outstanding officials and they made the calls. We have to live with them."
The missed goaltend was only part of the problem, however.
The Wildcats struggled to get around Gonzaga's length defensively in the first half, missing their first 10 shots from behind the arc before guard Vic Law made a 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining until halftime Northwestern shot 30 percent overall in the first half and trailed 38-20 at halftime.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said the second half non-call was a part of several "big plays" in the second half and he "wouldn't put it all on the technical."
"There's a lot of emotion that goes into these things," Few said. "If you lose, your season's over. If you win in Northwestern's case, it's probably the best thing they've ever done in the history of the school. So there's a lot of emotion, and you react spontaneously and stuff happens."
Northwestern's shooting improved to 50 percent in the second half, a jump leading Wildcats scorer Bryant McIntosh said came from "playing desperate."
"We just were playing for our lives there," McIntosh said.
But the technical froze Northwestern's momentum and the Bulldogs stayed ahead by at least five points and as much as 10 the rest of the way.
Collins was measured after the game when addressing the missed call, but was clearly frustrated with the finality of a loss in what was a historic season for Northwestern.
"We're all emotional, we were coming back from 20 down. They made the calls, it is what it is. They issued a statement, I appreciate the apology. It makes me feel great," Collins said.