DEKALB, Ill. — The message was impossible to miss: "Forward, Together Forward," read the banner hanging outside the arena.

A line in Northern Illinois' fight song, it's now a mantra for a school and community still recovering.

NIU took another small step Tuesday night, when it hosted Western Michigan in the first athletic event on campus since a gunman killed five students in a lecture hall before taking his own life on Feb. 14.

For the record, Western Michigan won 56-49 behind a 16-point effort from David Kool. But this clearly wasn't an ordinary game.

"It should serve as some therapy for all of us," NIU coach Ricardo Patton said.

The teams gathered arm-in-arm in a circle at midcourt while observing a moment of silence before the game, then shook hands and stood at opposite foul lines as the NIU alma mater and the Star Spangled banner played.

Western Michigan (17-10, 10-3) is trying to capture the Mid-America Conference championship. NIU (6-18, 3-9) is simply seeking some semblance of normalcy.

"We felt like coming out here, playing hard and trying to get the win would help," Huskies guard Darion Anderson said.

Banners hanging from the arena's rafters commemorate various championships and postseason appearances, but on some level, a more meaningful game has never been played by an NIU team — even if only 2,032 fans witnessed it.

Northern Illinois players and coaches wore ribbons, as did many in the crowd, while Western Michigan paid tribute with NIU patches.