Highlanders Earn Second Straight CIT Semifinals Berth; EB’s Ukawuba Scores 10
|East Brunswick’s Rob Ukawuba draws contact on a shot attempt for NJIT in the 2016 CIT Quarterfinal contest against UT-Arlington. Ukawuba was one of four players to score in double figures with 10 points as NJIT won, 63-60.|
NEWARK, NJ–A year ago, East Brunswick’s Rob Ukawuba was battling his way back from injury while NJIT was making its 2015 CIT run. He would make it back for the semifinal game that the Highlanders lost to Northern Arizona, but this year has been much different for the junior. On Monday night, Ukawuba played 28 minutes, made 6 of 9 shots from the floor, and finished with 14 points in NJIT’s win over Boston University in the 2nd round of the 2016 CIT.
Then came Thursday night’s CIT Quarterfinal round game against University of Texas at Arlington. While he didn’t score as many points and make as many shots, his contributions were huge in a nailbiting 63-60 victory over the Mavericks. With NJIT trailing 13-2 with about 12 minutes to go in the first half, the Highlanders were in desperate need of a spark after giving up 13 straight points to the Mavericks of UT-Arlington. NJIT was struggling offensively. Damon Lynn, who scored 31 points in the win over Boston University, couldn’t get himself going, and his teammates seemed to have trouble against UT-Arlington’s interior.
Ukawuba then opened things up by knocking down a three pointer from the right wing to close the gap to 13-5. The Mavericks would get a score to go back up 15-5, but NJIT would score 6 of the next 8 points on threes by former St. Anthony’s standout, Tim Coleman and Terrence Smith to narrow the deficit to 17-11. The Highlanders continued to chip away at the lead, and pulled within four at 30-26 going into the intermission after threes by Ky Howard and Chris Jenkins in the final minute of the first half. NJIT had more threes with 6 in the first half than two point field goals (two). They also had more charges with three including one drawn by Ukawuba.
NJIT opened up the second half on a 12-4 run by first scoring 6 of the initial 8 points of the half to tie the game twice at 30-30, and 32-32. Then, after a score by UT-Arlington, put the Mavericks up 34-32, Ukawuba struck again for his second trey of the game on a jumper from the right side off a kickout from underneath to put the Highlanders up 35-34. Lynn then added a trey of his own to give NJIT a 38-34 lead. It was the first of three treys in the final 20 minutes of the contest for the former Union Catholic standout. UT-Arlington, which was led by sharpshooter Drew Charles with 14 points, eventually tied the game again on a couple of occasions at 47-47 and 50-50, and then retook the lead at 51-50.
The lead didn’t last very long though as the Highlanders scored 8 straight points including threes by Ky Howard and Lynn for a 58-51 lead. NJIT led again by seven at 60-53 before UT-Arlington took advantage of its full court pressure and some errant passes by the Highlanders to score 7 of the next 8 points to pull within one at 61-60 with under a minute to play. However, Howard sealed the victory by making both ends of the bonus, and NJIT withstood a last second three point attempt by Charles that was off the mark. Ukawuba finished with 10 points on 3 of 6 shooting from the floor including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc. He also collected 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.
Howard tied Charles for game high with 14 points while Coleman added 12, and Lynn chipped in with 11. NJIT had four different players score in double figures while UT-Arlington only had two. The Highlanders also enjoyed a 33-18 advantage in points scored from beyond the arc after going 11 of 25 from long distance while UT-Arlington was only 6 of 27 according to NJIT’s Athletics web site. There were 4 lead changes and 5 ties in the contest while neither team led by more than 11 points. With the victory, NJIT improved to 20-14 overall, and advanced to the CIT Semifinals to play Columbia of the Ivy League on Sunday evening at 6:00 PM in New York City. UT-Arlington concluded its season at 24-11.