Freshmen, Digiorgio Lead Men’s Hoops to NACC Semifinal

CHICAGO—In front of a raucous crowd in the Keating Sports Center on Wednesday night, the fourth-seeded Illinois Tech men’s basketball team defeated the fifth-seeded Rockford College Regents 75-68. Overcoming a second-half deficit that reached double-digits, the Scarlet Hawks (15-11) leaned heavily on the team’s freshman class, along with senior Jake Digiorgio, to dismantle Rockford (12-13).

How It Happened

  • The Scarlet Hawks were hot out of the gate, with Otis Reale and Parker Joncus draining threes on Tech’s first two possessions. Calvin Schmitz also connected from long range on Tech’s fourth possession as the Hawks jumped out to a 9-5 lead.
  • Rockford, however, took firm control of the first half in its middle stages. The Diemer brothers, Tony and Kevin, combined to score the team’s first 13 points. Later on, Brandon Emerick gave the Regents some instant offense, hitting three-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
  • Rockford’s lead would reach as high as nine on four different occasions over the first 20 minutes, but Tech was able to keep the deficit manageable. With the Scarlet Hawks down 33-24, Tech held Rockford scoreless over the half’s final 2:30. Milos DugalicJake Digiorgio, and Reale all scored points in that span to bring the halftime deficit to four at 33-29.
  • To start the second half, Rockford had its foot on the gas pedal. The Regents opened on a 13-2 run to take a 47-33 lead with 14:38 left, its largest of the game.
  • Enter Ahmad Muhammad, who began to make his presence felt off the bench after the deficit reached its highest. The freshman scored six of the team’s next eight baskets, as he and Dugalic, another first-year player, pushed the lead to under double-digits for good. Ricardo Whitehead also drew a charge during this stretch, sending the Scarlet Hawk fans into a frenzy and helping to change the game’s momentum. The Scarlet Hawks also held the Regents scoreless for nearly four minutes during this critical run.
  • Rockford snapped its drought, but the Scarlet Hawks kept coming. Muhammad and Digiorgio poured in buckets before Kohl Linder pulled down a big offensive rebound, drew two fouls, and sank both free throws to make it a one-point game (51-50) with 8:42 left.
  • After Dugalic and Digiorgio scored to give the Hawks a three-point lead, Rockford came right back to with five Taylor Krocker points to give the Regents a lead. Once again, though, Muhammad was on the scene, scoring Illinois Tech’s next eight points (six on three-pointers) as the Scarlet Hawks jumped ahead 62-59 with 3:50 to play.
  • Up two with three seconds left, Whitehead and Digiorgio combined for perhaps the game’s biggest sequence. After Whitehead stole the ball on the defensive end, Digiorgio hit a three-pointer from several steps beyond the line, putting the Hawks up five points (65-60) with 2:34 to play and providing that last boost of momentum the team needed.
  • Muhammad and Reale hit free throws down the stretch as the Scarlet Hawks earned stops on defense. With under 20 seconds to play, Digiorgio made his last basket in the Keating Sports Center a memorable one. Dugalic stole the ball and found the Upper Peninsula of Michigan native on the fastbreak for an emphatic slam dunk, a perfect exclamation point on one of the most memorable games in the Keating Sports Center.

Scarlet Hawk Standouts

  • Digiorgio’s last game in the Keating Sports Center produced a typical stat line for one of the nation’s leading rebounders: 15 points, 17 rebounds, four steals, and two blocked shots.
  • Tech’s freshman class proved to be poised for the moment. Muhammad led all players with 18 points, with all of those coming in the second half. He also had three rebounds and three assists.
  • Another freshman, Dugalic, poured in 14 off the bench with nine rebounds, two assists, two steals, and no turnovers.
  • Reale, a third freshman to see significant minutes, scored 11 points.

Stats to Know

  • The Scarlet Hawks committed just 10 turnovers and hauled in 17 offensive rebounds, which lead to 21 more shot attempts from the floor.
  • Rockford shot a higher percentage from both the field (43.8% to 40.6%) and three-point range (58.8% to 24.0%), but a 44-35 rebounding advantage was a bid aid to Tech.

Up Next

  • The Scarlet Hawks will face the tournament’s host and top seed, Milwaukee School of Engineering, at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday at the campus’ Kern Center. Live coverage links will be made available.