The UT men’s basketball team lost a tight contest to the Northern Illinois Huskies Thursday, Mar. 14.
The game was the first for the Rockets in the tournament, as they clinched a first-round bye for the tournament during the regular season.
The Rockets were hopeful for this year’s MAC tournament as they came up one game short, losing in the championship game to Buffalo last season.
Northern Illinois gave the Rockets two hard fought games during the regular season and the third installment of the season was no different.
As the first half tipped off at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, it quickly became a forgettable one for the two-seeded Rockets. The Rockets were reeling when the Huskies rolled during a 12-0 run, keyed by third-year guard Eugene German.
The Huskies kept control of the lead despite a 10-2 Rocket run.
At the half, the Huskies’ lead dwindled to just two, 41-39 in a high-scoring half. German of the Huskies led the game in scoring to that point with 18.
The second half became a back-and-forth affair, with both teams jostling for the lead. The Rockets gained control after a Luke Knapke three that tied it at 68 with less than three minutes left.
However, after taking a 70-68 lead, the Rockets allowed a 7-0 run and found themselves trailing 75-70 with 47 seconds left. The game then came down to free throws, as the Rockets found themselves down 78-75 in the waning seconds.
This is when Marreon Jackson was intentionally fouled and missed one of two, forcing the Rockets to foul the Huskies. Dante Thorpe of the Huskies was fouled and drilled both free throws to seal the Huskies massive upset, 80-76.
The loss is a shock for a Rocket team that had high hopes of winning the MAC and ensuring an NCAA tournament berth, that is automatic if a team wins their conference.
The Huskies shot a blistering 58 percent from the floor and German led the game in scoring with 28.
The mood in the press conference after the game was somber, with the feeling of missed opportunities in the air.
“I thought we played exceptionally hard,” head coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “Proud of our team, proud of our effort, excited to continue to play.”
The Rockets open up NIT play as a six seed and play Xavier in the first round Wednesday, Mar. 20 in Cincinnati.