Northwestern holds off Akron 76-74 in NIT
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Northwestern found a way to hang on and win a close game on Tuesday night.
A potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer by Akron guard Alex Abreu bounced off the glass, allowing the Wildcats to preserve a 76-74 first-round National Invitation Tournament victory over Akron at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"It was pretty nerve-racking because we lost so many close ones this year," said forward Drew Crawford, who closed with a game-high 27 points. "We were glad to see that shot miss."
The win sends the Wildcats (19-13) into a second-round game against top-seeded Washington, which beat Texas-Arlington 81-72.
John Shurna, the Wildcats' career leading scorer, added 23 points and 11 rebounds and became the 27th player in Big Ten history with 2,000 or more points. He has 2,015.
Too many narrow losses probably helped cost Northwestern its first NCAA tournament berth, so the Wildcats now hope to compensate in their fourth straight NIT.
"We're happy to get a win and continue to play basketball," Shurna said.
Akron, which trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half, bounced back in the second and led 70-69 with 4:05 to play following a Diggs 3 pointer. Northwestern reclaimed the lead on Cobb's baseline jumper a minute later and made it 73-70 on a Shurna putback.
Gilliam tied the game with three free throws after Shurna fouled him with 2:21 left, but the Northwestern senior made up with his game-winning 3 pointer with 1:33 remaining.
Diggs was fouled with 3.7 seconds left and the Zips down 76-73. He hit the first and missed the second, but Akron recovered possession to set up Abreu's final try.
"We struggled early but we believed we could come back and we knew we had an opportunity," Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. "We had to shore up and keep our composure, especially when you lose a heartbreaker like the last time out."
Akron won the Mid-American Conference regular season title, but missed an NCAA berth when it fell 64-63 to Ohio in last Saturday's MAC tournament championship game.
Tuesday's game was the Zips' first NIT appearance since the 2007-08 season.
In the first half, Northwestern used a 12-2 run over a 4:17 span to open a double-digit lead at 26-14. Shurna had a pair of 3 pointers in the span while Crawford had five. Akron's 11-4 late run trimmed the halftime deficit to 42-34.
The Zips pushed past the Wildcats for a 51-49 lead with 13 minutes left on a Nick Harney layup. There were four more lead changes and three ties the rest of the way.
Tuesday's meeting was the first between the two programs. Northwestern is (48-17) against MAC teams.
Shurna's Big Ten milestone came on a short jumper with 6:24 left in the first half. He also had two first-half blocks and has a school-record 135.
Updated March 14, 2012