For Indiana University Northwest, it may have been the basketball game of the century.
With a 6-9 record heading into the holiday break, the IU Northwest RedHawk men’s basketball team traveled to Eastern Kentucky University (7-5) and stunned the NCAA Division I Colonels 74-73 behind a 25-point effort from junior forward Joe Ramey. The RedHawks led by as many as 10 in the second half and held off a late EKU rally in which the Colonels ran off eight unanswered points but couldn’t convert a crucial free throw to tie in the final seconds.
It was easily the biggest victory in the history of IU Northwest athletics.
“This doesn’t happen too often,” said RedHawks head coach Pete Trgovich. “To see the looks on our guys’ faces … this is a memory that they will carry with them forever. We were the last ones left in the gym. Nobody wanted to leave.”
Ramey led a balanced offensive attack in which four of the RedHawks’ five starters scored in double digits. Juniors Jesse Howell and Pete Trgovich III put up 18 and 17 points, respectively. Senior guard Pete Dunbar scored 11 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, including a couple of big boards in the final minute. IU Northwest didn’t just win the game; the RedHawks actually held the lead for the majority of the contest.
To place the NAIA Division II RedHawks’ victory in some perspective, it is important to reiterate that EKU is an NCAA Division I school, an Ohio Valley Conference team that played in the NCAA Tournament only two years ago and nearly upset the University of Cincinnati Bearcats last weekend on Cincy’s home floor, losing 85-77 in OT. Cincinnati (9-2) is a Big East school. Clearly, EKU is a serious D-I program.
“They’re obviously a pretty good team,” Trgovich said.
On Monday night, the IU Northwest RedHawks went into Eastern Kentucky and played with the big boys … and won.
“We took (our) team that two years ago was almost basically a club team, and we walked into Eastern Kentucky and beat them on their home floor,” said Trgovich, who came to IU Northwest in 2007 after leading East Chicago Central to an Indiana high school title that same year. “We have some guys on our team who feel that they should have played D-I, but they didn’t get that opportunity. Last night, they proved to themselves and to everyone else that they could have played at that level.”
The RedHawks’ win came on the heels of another gratifying victory, this one against region rival Purdue Calumet on Saturday. The RedHawks beat the Peregrines 103-100 in Hammond, avenging an earlier 89-85 loss to PUC in overtime last month.
Defeating a hometown rival is always great, said Trgovich, who credited his players for showing persistence and determination despite some tough early-season losses. But the unprecedented upset over EKU, the coach said, is truly the stuff memories are made of.
“This was just a fantastic feeling,” he said. “I’ll never forget it. I'm so happy for the guys, because they were able to experience what it feels like to win a game like this."