Men’s basketball battles NIU in MAC West bout


The UT men’s basketball team put together a heroic comeback in a defensively-charged victory over rival Northern Illinois Feb. 23.


This victory comes a game after the Rockets were served a humiliating road loss by Eastern Michigan earlier in the week. 


Both clubs started the game slow on offense. The Rockets’ offense struggled until the end of the first half. 


Trailing 23-15, the Rockets rode a 6-0 run to claw back into the game at the end of the half, 23-21. The 21 points is the season low in a half for the Rockets, as they shot 9-26 from the field. 


As the second half began, the visiting Huskies shook off their slow start. Eugene German of the Huskies caught fire from the floor in the second half, ballooning the Huskies’ lead to double digits. 


“I told them at halftime, ‘We have to worry about us and stay positive’,” head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “It’s amazing when you stay together and you stay positive how things can happen. I’m not sure we’d win this game without an unbelievable crowd. We didn’t give them a reason to get behind us until it really mattered.


When we did, they got behind us and I can’t tell you how much our players and coaches and program appreciate that.”


The most the Rockets trailed by was 11 and it appeared the Huskies were on their way to a big road victory until Jaelan Sanford and Marreon Jackson brought the Rockets out of their slump. Jackson hit three pointers in route to tie the game at 48. 


From there, it was Sanford who gave the Rockets a lead they did not relinquish. Up 57-54 in the waning seconds, the Huskies had two solid looks at the rim for a tie, but both shots did not fall and the Rockets escaped with a big win. 


Nate Navigato led the Rockets in scoring with 21 in the team’s 21st win of the season. They improved their home record to 12-2 with the win. It was also the ninth time this season the Rockets held their opponents under 60 points. 


“It was a grind-out win for us,” fourth-year Nate Navigato said. “The biggest thing about our team tonight was we stuck together and because of that, we grinded it out and we won.” 


The next contest for the Rockets is against Central Michigan at 4:30 p.m., March 2 in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

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