On pins and needles, Northwestern earns long-awaited tourney bid

For pure drama, wait until the shots start flying in the NCAA tournament.

For sheer excitement, Selection Sunday belonged to Northwestern.

The Wildcats, longtime losers in Big Ten basketball, were officially invited to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, and the group-hugging, selfie-taking reaction from the players when the school's name was announced Sunday showed how much the accomplishment meant.

Coach Chris Collins waved off decades of futility by pumping both fists in the air to celebrate the Wildcats' invitation.

"When I came here four years ago, it was a belief in a day like today,'' said Collins, whose team won 23 games on its way to the NCAA tournament.

Until Northwestern turned up in the bracket -- a No. 8 seed playing No. 9 Vanderbilt in the West Region -- Collins alternately sat with arms folded or his hands clasped, seemingly doing anything to keep from chewing off his fingertips.

Guard Scottie Lindsey said the team sat nervously as the CBS selection show rolled along without announcing the team and cameras occasionally cut to them during the broadcast.

"Just waiting to see who and where we were going to play was a little bit nerve-wracking," Lindsey said.

Bryant McIntosh, the team's leader in scoring and assists, shared the sentiment about the impact of waiting for the official announcement.

"I think they were trying to give us a heart attack, just having us wait that long," McIntosh said.

But the wait -- even it was slightly longer than expected -- was certainly worth it. A roar followed the selection, and then doubled in volume as the cameras showed the largely purple crowd of around 2,000 on their feet, stomping on the old bleachers at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats' home gym is slated for a floor-to-ceiling renovation beginning Monday.

"It's historic. We've made history, to be part of the first class; I don't think we know what it means right now, but it's an awesome feeling," Lindsey said.

McIntosh hugged Collins after the announcement and said he had to fight back tears of joy.

"It's just a dream we both had with this program, and being able to do it with him is really special," McIntosh said.

Collins said the Wildcats will put the festivities behind them and begin preparing for Thursday's game in Salt Lake City.

"Today was a celebration of a long time coming for a lot of people, especially for our team, but now it's time to get to work," Collins said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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