AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips got 22 points from sophomore Loren Christen Jackson, including a pair of free throws with 5.4 seconds remaining, to hold off the Northern Illinois Huskies 67-65 Saturday afternoon at Rhodes Arena.
With its victory, Akron (12-8, 4-3 MAC) avenged a loss to the Huskies in DeKalb back on January 12 (73-56) and improved to 10-1 at home.
UA led 54-45 with 4:20 remaining on a three-pointer from the right corner by Jeremy Roscoe, but Northern rallied to close to 57-55 with 1:18 remaining when junior Eugene German hit one of two free throws.
After senior Jimond Ivey hit a pair of three-pointers from the right corner, they were countered by threes from Dante Thorpe and German to make the score 63-61 with 21.1 seconds remaining.
Jackson, a transfer from Long Beach State, made both ends of a one-and one situation to push UA’s lead back to four, 65-61. However, NIU just would not fold, getting an sensational three from the left arc by senior Levi Bradley with just under six seconds remaining.
When German then fouled Jackson at the 5.4 seconds left, he cooly made both free throws.
With 3.2 seconds remaining, German was fouled by Tyler Cheese. He made the first one then intentionally missed the second, but the rebound bounced into the corner and the clock ran out.
Jackson led UA with 22 points, along with two rebounds and three assists. Junior Daniel Utomi had 14 with three rebounds and three assists bouncing back from going scoreless in the Zips last game a 70-67 win on Tuesday over central Michigan.
Northern Illinois (11-9, 4-3 MAC) lost for the third time in the last four games after their stunning 77-75 win in the final second Tuesday night against nationally ranked Buffalo at home.
German, who came into the game leading the MAC in scoring, led all scorers in the contest with 23 points, along with nine rebounds two assists and two steals. Senior Dante Thorpe added 16 points and four boards, while Bradley had 14 and four rebounds and two steals
The game started out with the first four baskets coming from long range. UA got the first two before Northern Illinois went on an 11-0 run to take a lead they would hold for the entire first half.
NIU built a 19-9 lead at the 9:58 mark when Lacey James hit one of two free throws. With the Huskies leading 24-14 at the 7:08 mark on a jumper by German, UA scored the next 10 points to tie the game 24-24 at the 1:50 mark on a pair of free throws by Jackson.
“We shot 26 percent from the field in the first half. I thought our defense and our toughness let us hang around.” Groce said.
However, it was the visitors from DeKalb who would take the lead, 28-24 going into halftime after Bradley made both ends of a one-and-one free throw and a driving layup by German.
When asked about the NIU guard, Groce said “He is simply terrific. Athletic, fast, can shoot the ball, can score at all three levels. He is competitive and tough. In the two games against the Zips, the junior scored 50 total points -- 27 in the first meeting.
When the second half began, the Zips used an 8-2 spurt to take their first lead (33-32) since the game's opening moments on a transition layup by Ivey.
After the Huskies took the lead 33-32 on a one-and-one play by McCarty, UA put together another spurt. This time it was 14-2 to open its largest lead, 46-35, on a driving layup by Cheese at the 9:34 mark.
The Zips lead fluctuated between six and nine points before the Huskies made their final push.
“We started clicking in the second half and probably played as good a half of basketball as we had all season," Groce said.
Statistically, UA overall shot 20-of-56 from the field (35.7 percent). However, the Zips connected on 10-of-20 from beyond the arc and went 13-of-16 from the free throw line. They converted 17 NIU turnovers into 15 points and had 10 second chance points.
The Huskies shot 21-of-50 from the floor over the 40 minutes (42 percent) and won the rebound battle 37-33. There was a total of 30 turnovers in the contest (17 by NIU) and were only 4-from-11 from beyond the arc in the second half and were 15-of-20 from the charity stripe.
UA starts a two-game road trip on Saturday at Ohio then heads to at Western Michigan to face the Broncos for the second time this season, NIU begins a three-game homestand Tuesday night when Ohio comes to the Convocation Center.