Oliver Purnell has been around coaching long enough to know that plays drawn up during timeouts normally don't go as planned.
But Purnell's drawn-up play went as planned on Friday, and Billy Garrett Jr. scored the game-winning basket as time expired and DePaul beat Northwestern 57-56.
Sandi Marcius finished with 12 points and Cleveland Melvin added 11 for DePaul (8-5).
Leading 52-51, Tommy Hamilton IV found Marcius, who was fouled on a dunk and made a free throw to complete a three-point play with 35.2 seconds left, to put DePaul up 55-51.
Northwestern (7-6) had a chance in the final seconds. Tre Demps made two free throws, then, after Brandon Young missed the front end of a one-and-one, Demps was fouled on his putback. He missed both free throws, but Northwestern got the rebound and James Montgomery found Dave Sobolewski at the top of the key for a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left to give Northwestern a 56-55 lead.
Then, after a timeout, DePaul broke a full-court press, Durrell McDonald found Garrett underneath the basket, and his shot just beat the clock.
"Our guys had the presence of mind to come over and execute a play perfectly. It's very seldom that your guys have four reads and they make all four of them," Purnell said.
"Our guys didn't hang their head after what could've been a spirit-draining shot. They had a presence of mind to read and execute. I thought we deserved the win. We almost gave the game away at the free-throw line but the kids clearly hung in there to the last second."
Garrett finished with nine points for DePaul.
Demps scored 23 points for Northwestern and Crawford added 15 on 5-of-17 shooting.
DePaul rebounded from Sunday's loss to Illinois State as they head into Big East play.
"It gives us momentum going into conference play. It was a tough loss at Illinois State. We didn't do some things that we needed to do to win that game. It shows our guys are resilient," Garrett said.
Trailing 49-44 with 4:54 left, Nathan Taphorn made a 3-pointer and Sanjay Lumpkin made one of two from the line to cut the DePaul lead to one. Crawford then gave the Wildcats the lead with a jumper in the lane to put them up 50-49 with 2:10 left. Marcius answered for DePaul with a three-point play to put DePaul up 52-50 with 52.3 seconds left. After Crawford made one of two free throws, DePaul broke Northwestern's full-court press.
Melvin had back-to-back baskets to put DePaul up 39-31 early in the second half, but Northwestern quickly cut the deficit. JerShon Cobb and Demps both connected on 3-pointers to get within 39-37 with 11:48 left.
"It wasn't going well for us, but I was really proud of our guys, we just hung in there," said Northwestern coach Chris Collins. "Every time it looked like we were going to turn the corner we missed a bunny or a layup. We kind of could never get over the hump. Obviously in the last 2 minutes a lot happened."
It was an ugly first half for both teams. DePaul shot 28.6 percent and was 11 of 21 from the free-throw line.
Northwestern committed 10 turnovers and shot 28 percent.
DePaul led 28-23 at the half. Melvin led the Blue Demons with five points and four rebounds. Crawford led all scorers with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting for the Wildcats.
Sobolewski struggled against DePaul's pressure throughout the game. He committed five turnovers.
Cobb came off the bench to score three. He missed the last three games with an ankle injury.
DePaul converted just 14 of 29 free throws.
"We had a chance to give ourselves breathing room a number of times during the game and we just kept going to the free-throw line coming up short. We finally made a few at the end," Purnell said.