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Northwestern hangs on for 76-74 NIT win over Akron

Drew Crawford went into hyper mode in the first half, and the rest of the Wildcats made just enough plays to hang on in the second. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-US PRESSWIRE
Drew Crawford went into hyper mode in the first half, and the rest of the Wildcats made just enough plays to hang on in the second. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-US PRESSWIRE

Northwestern and its fans have been through all kinds of agony this season with regards to close losses that were almost victories that almost led to the school's first ever NCAA bid. Finally on Tuesday night, the Wildcats were on the winning side of a very important basketball game. John Shurna's clutch three-pointer with 1:34 to go proved to be the difference as Northwestern survived Alex Abreu's last second jump shot attempt to win 76-74.

Yesterday I wrote about how Bill Carmody gets flak for, among other things, not pushing the right buttons at the end of games. However, in this one, he acted very smartly by having his team foul Akron's Quincy Diggs with the 'Cats up by three and just under four seconds on the clock.

Diggs was forced to miss the second free throw after he made the first. Sure, Northwestern failed to get the rebound and ended up giving Akron one more chance, but the point is Carmody orchestrated the strategy correctly and should be commended for that. It doesn't matter if you agree that fouling there is the right thing to do. The point is that he instructed his team to do it, and it was executed properly so that Akron did not have enough time to go down the floor one more time.

In the first half, Northwestern came out with a head full of steam. Drew Crawford was nigh unstoppable with 8 of 10 shooting for 19 points. The junior slasher only ended up with 27 on the night, but his supernova start was instrumental in giving the 'Cats an 8-point lead at the half.

It didn't last long. Crawford started the second half with a three-pointer, but Akron rolled off 9 straight points to make the score 45-43. Neither team would lead by more than 4 points for the rest of the game.

Despite quickly losing its first half advantage, Carmody's team never gave up. Crawford told the Daily Northwestern, "We never think negatively. We just got together as a team and said this is when we’re put on a run. We can’t wait for the final seconds of the game. We've got to be able to fight now and finish the game strong."

Although Shurna only made 8 of 22 field goals, he still scored 23 points with 11 rebounds and 7 assists. JerShon Cobb was the other standout player for Northwestern with 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Dave Sobolewski didn't score a point, but did hand out 5 assists and only one turnover.

As expected, Akron did its best to attack down low. Star center Zeke Marshall score 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting while grabbing 7 rebounds.

"We did pretty well on the post," the seven-foot center said. "They’re a really small team compared to us, so we just pounded it in and we scored relatively well. Our plan coming in was to pound it down low, make them double (team) and shoot open shots."

Alex Abreu missed all 3 of this three-point attempts and only scored 4 points, but he was a key contributor as well with 10 assists and 5 rebounds. Quincy Diggs has seen his production drop lately, but in this one he was very tough for Northwestern to handle. Diggs came off the bench to shoot 3 of 5 from beyond the arc and score a team-high 18 points.

Next up, Northwestern, like Iowa, will head to the west coast to take on a Pac-12 opponent. The 'Cats will appropriately play the Dawgs, AKA the #1 seed Huskies of Washington, on Friday.