Northwestern beat Vanderbilt by two points, 68 to 66.
There was a packed house at the Northwestern Student Union to watch the game, then celebrated.
"Folks tried to count us out but we're Wildcats, we're taking this all the way. Super excited," said Tracey Gibson-Jackson, faculty.
The team's fate was in doubt right down to the final seconds.
"The end was a little stressful but it was really exciting to kind of feel like you're in it with a bunch of other people," said Grita Hirami, student.
"Oh my God, one shot. You know, I'm still excited from the last time when they got the shot within the last few seconds. They're doing really well everyone's posting about it on Facebook," said Allison Manley, a Northwestern staff member.
Although they couldn't make it to Salt Lake City, fans still showed their purple pride.
"I had to get a new sweatshirt for the game today, and I also got a t-shirt for my 2-year-old daughter. So mini fan as well," said Molly Neuleib, faculty member.
March Madness fever spread across campus during a rough week for students: finals week.
"This is like a dichotomy between everybody cramming for finals but also this hype about basketball that's, like never been on the campus before," said student Peter Hartman.
"It's an amazing thing. I think the role of sports in a university is important, actually. The the spirit and the morale of people when they go to work. Give them some jazz, some pizazz. That what it's done. It's energizing," said Neil Kelleher, a Northwestern professor.
"I know people who are going to be in finals during the game that are really disappointing. It's disappointing that it's so far away," said student Calvin Anderson.
There were some students who found a way to make the trip out west to Salt Lake City. For those stuck on campus, the university organized watch parties in Evanston and Chicago.
"We wanted to see if we could find somewhere with as many fans as possible and try to get their energy going," said Beth Koehler, student.
Now the Wildcats will play the no. 1-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday.
"We're going on, we're going on, but the next game is going to be so tough," said Felipe Schulmen.
"I can't believe it's happening. If we manage to upset Gonzaga, that cements us on the national stage. That we're a contender, we mean business in March and we're going to be here to stay," said Nick Brito, a Northwestern student.
"I guess miracles happen. We'll just hope for the best and definitely cheer on our Wildcats," said Sarah Dinegar, a Northwestern student.
With 2 gift FTs, Northwestern prevails 68-66 over Vandy
What was he thinking?
Northwestern got its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, 68-66 over Vanderbilt, after Commodores guard Matthew Fisher-Davis inexplicably grabbed Wildcats guard Bryant McIntosh on purpose, sending McIntosh to the free throw line for the go-ahead points with 15 seconds left.
Riley LaChance made a layup with 18 seconds remaining in Thursday's game to put the ninth-seeded Commodores up by one after trailing by as many as 15.
But seconds after the in-bounds pass, Fisher-Davis reached out and grabbed McIntosh while he was in the backcourt. That put eighth-seeded Northwestern in the double bonus, and McIntosh went to the line and calmly swished the free throws with 15 seconds left.
LaChance missed a 3 on the next possession and eighth-seeded Northwestern (24-11) got another free throw.
Fisher-Davis heaved a desperation shot at the buzzer, but it missed, and he sunk his head and reached down to his shoes in despair.
MCINTOSH MOMENT: McIntosh led the Wildcats with 25 points, none more important than those that came on his only two free throws of the night.
FISHER-DAVIS SCORES: Fisher-Davis led Vanderbilt with 22 points, including a 3-pointer during a 12-0 run that kept Vanderbilt in it after falling behind by 15 with 13 minutes left.
ON HAND: Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame, whose son plays for the Wildcats, was in the stands.
UP NEXT: Northwestern will play top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round of the West region Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. null