NEWARK, NJ - Approximately 40 minutes prior to game time, the campus was alive with activity. This Thursday evening, it was students going to class and/or events. For the most part, the collective pulse of the community beat over basketball. The NJIT Highlanders were hosting a quarterfinal in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The opposition, UT-Arlington of the Sun Belt, posed a threat to end this run. The challenge and anticipation of another postseason game at NJIT’s Fleisher Center created a buzz on this campus, just walking distance from two Rutgers campuses.
UT-Arlington got out to a double-digit lead early. That did not quiet the crowd. When the host Highlanders started finding the range, the decibel level increased. Having a marching band from nearby East Orange did not hurt either. In the final analysis, it came down to one possession. NJIT led by three when the Mavericks’ leading scorer took a three-point attempt at the buzzer. It rimmed out. The final was 63-60 in favor of NJIT, and coach Jim Engles’ club played the ‘survive and advance’ theme into the CIT quarterfinals.
Getting win number 20 and extending the season were advantages on the surface. Beyond that, a second straight semifinal appearance in a postseason tournament. As Engles asked, “how many teams are still playing? We are one of them.”
The night also served a vivid reminder of nearly a decade ago, when NJIT made the move to Division I. The early days saw the team get national attention for a record losing streak, a string of futility ending up as dubious distinction. Enter Engles. Hard work, commitment and solid coaching gradually transformed the program from playing in front of only friends and relatives to crowds including passionate fans and alums. The time and patience have rewarded those who invested with their efforts. A second straight CIT semifinal game is indeed a satisfying accomplishment. Beyond that, and of utmost importance, is the respect and recognition given NJIT by the college basketball community.
A quiet spot on the NJIT campus leading to the gym:
Outside the Estelle and Zoom Fleisher Athletic Center:
UT-Arlington applies full court pressure as NJIT gets ready to make a move to the ball:
St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley, fresh off a Tournament of Champions title, took in the game. Behind him are two of his assistant coaches:
A baseline view of NJIT's home court at the Fleisher Center:
ESPN's Rob Kennedy shares a lighter postgame moment with NJIT coach Jim Engles:
The clock reads 9:27, but the game is in the books as the scoreboard displays the final outcome: