INDIANAPOLIS — Saying that Chris Collins was upset about a no call in the waning seconds of regulation in Thursday's Big Ten Tournament loss to Michigan would be putting it mildly.
Michigan's Duncan Robinson certainly looked like he took a few extra steps on an inbound play with the Wolverines up by just a point inside of 20 seconds to go. Instead, officials called a foul on Northwestern, Robinson split a pair of free throws and Alex Olah's putback basket with 0.1 seconds left on the clock forced overtime instead of advancing the Wildcats to the third day of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Cats went on to lose the game, 72-70, in the extra period.
[MORE BIG TEN: Northwestern comes up short in overtime loss to Michigan]
Would a travel call and an ensuing Northwestern possession have changed the outcome? We'll never know that. But Collins wasn't at all happy with the call — or lack thereof — and he believed it to be a reflection of Northwestern's status as a program, one that has improved under Collins but still has never reached an NCAA tournament.
"Looked like a lot of steps on the end line with Duncan Robinson, but I don't know. You guys watched the game," Collins, who could barely speak his voice was so gone, said during his postgame press conference. "Make your own determination.
"I think we're two good teams, two teams that deserve to win that game, honestly. And I guess our name isn't big enough yet, and that's something that we have to do for ourselves. We don't have the brand name yet, and so that's something that we're going to work on.
"It's a battle, fighting so hard. That's what I'm fighting, and that's what I'm going to keep fighting. And I'm really proud of my guys. We don't have that brand name on our chest, but you know what? We play good basketball. We're a good team now. I hope people take notice of that. I hope people take notice of that. We're a good basketball team and a good program. And we're going to keep getting better and hopefully one day we will be viewed as such."
Collins wasn't the only one in purple and white who thought the officials got it wrong. Sophomore point guard Bryant McIntosh agreed with his coach but didn't exactly express the same conspiracy theory.
"I felt like we deserved to win that game," McIntosh said. "I felt like we made the right plays, we made a lot of great plays to win the game, and we just came up short. We laid everything on the line, though. A lot of people are upset, heartbroken. I'm that, but I'm a little angry, just for the fact that I'm a competitor and I wanted to win that game. And it's upsetting.
"There's no question he travelled, but it's part of the human error in the game of basketball. Refs, they make mistakes just like we do on the floor. So you can point to that play, but you can also point to plays that we didn't make. So I'm not blaming (the loss) on that. We didn't make enough plays to win the game."
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In many sporting events when controversial calls by officials seem to make a huge difference in the eyes of participants and onlookers, the bigger difference is almost always found elsewhere, and McIntosh said that.
The Cats shot just 25 percent in the first half and got a total of 10 points in the entire game from guys not named McIntosh, Olah and Tre Demps. Zak Irvin hit the game's biggest shot for Michigan, a game-winning jumper with three seconds left in overtime that beat the Northwestern defense. And even when gifted an opportunity at a game-winning shot when Derrick Walton Jr. stepped on the end line for a last-second turnover, the Cats came up empty.
None of that had anything to do with the lack of a travel call on Robinson or the officials' supposed lack of respect for the Northwestern basketball brand.
Collins certainly does have his program moving in the right direction. This season's 20 wins were the most in a regular season in program history. Collins' recruiting, when viewed through the lens of Northwestern seasons past, has been off the charts. He's transforming the Cats, and there's plenty of reason to be excited for the future.
But for now — whether because of the travel that wasn't or because of any number of other things — it was just another Thursday exit from the Big Ten Tournament.