EVANSTON, Ill. – In another nail-biter for the Akron men's basketball team, the Zips fell 76-74 to Northwestern in the first round of the 2012 National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The loss ends the season for the Zips as UA finishes with a 22-12 record. The game ended with Alex Abreu's shot to win it as time expired, but his 3-pointer would not fall. He finished with four points and a career-high tying 10 assists.
For the game, Akron shot 44.8 percent from the floor (30-of-67) and connected on 31.6 percent from long range (6-of-19). The Zips had 20 assists to 12 turnovers and won the rebounding battle 40-22.
Drew Crawford led Northwestern (19-13) with 27 points.
The Zips carried the momentum of the 7-0 to finish the first 20 minutes into the second half, cutting the deficit to 45-43 with 17:40 remaining by extending the scoring streak to 16-3.
The Zips tied the game at 49-49 at the 16:04 mark and Nick Harney gave Akron its first lead (51-49) since the 17:35 mark of the first half (6-5) on a fast break layup at the 12:54 mark.
After both teams traded leads, Northwestern entered the final eight minutes with a 63-61 advantage. The NW lead would stand at three points (73-70) with 2:20 to go in the game.
After Brian Walsh tied the game at 73-73 at the free throw line (1:49), John Shurna's 3-point gave the Wildcats a 76-73 advantage with 1:33 on the clock.
This game, like the Mid-American Conference title game, would come down to Akron trying to convert, down two, at the line on a missed free throw. Diggs would connect on the first, with the second knocked out of bounds by Northwestern. Abreu would get a good shot off from 3-point land for the win, but the attempt would be just off the back of the rim.
The game remained tied at 10-10 at the first media timeout (15:44) before the Wildcats opened up a 10-point lead (22-12) by the 11:41 mark to force an Akron timeout.
Northwestern's lead would grow to 13 points (29-16) on several occasions and would stand at 35-23 with 3:48 remaining before halftime. Diggs helped to keep the Zips close with seven points in a 1:26 stretch.
Down 42-27 with 1:27 remaining, the Zips closed the half with seven points to cut the Wildcat lead to 42-34 heading into the locker room.
Diggs led the way for the Zips with nine points while Marshall had eight points and six boards. Gilliam added seven points for Akron as the Zips closed the half shooting 40.5 percent from the floor (15-of-37). Abreu had seven assists in the half.
Akron held a 23-14 advantage on the boards and committed just six turnovers to three by Northwestern.
Zips Notebook: Nikola Cvetinovic tied Steve McNees' (2008-11) school record for games played, making his 141st-career appearance ... Abreu's 149 assists for the season are the fourth-most in school history ... Akron is now 2-5 all-time in the NIT ... Nikola Cvetinovic finishes his career with 1,158 points, 25th-most in program history.