HOUSTON, TX - The Akron Zips advanced to the second round of the 2017 National Invitational Tournament as they defeated the Houston Cougars 78-75 Wednesday night at Texas Southern University’s E&PE Arena.
With the victory, Akron (27-8) set a school record for victories and also ended a six-game losing streak in postseason play dating back to the 2008 NIT when they won at Florida State.
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Senior Isaiah Johnson led the Zips with 21 points while sophomore Jimond Ivey was the other UA player in double figures with 10.
Houston (21-11), out of the American Athletic Conference, was paced by Rob Gray. He led all scorers with 24 points. Damyean Dotson added 19 and Devin Davis registered 10 points along with seven rebounds.
The game was close throughout the 40 minutes. It was tied 15 times and had 16 lead changes while the battle was played inside a differential of 13 total points.
The Zips started strong, scoring eight of the first ten points to take what would be their largest lead of the game just four minutes into the contest.
After the Cougars tied the game at 8-8, both teams then traded the advantage before the home team opened a pair of seven point leads, the last being 35-28 when Dotson hit a jumper at the 3:56 mark. UA then closed its deficit to a single point at halftime 35-34.
The second half was tied 12 times and had 15 lead changes. Akron’s largest lead was four, while the Cougars managed to get up by six 65-59 when Bernard Nikaki scored on a slam dunk with 6:30 remaining.
UA stayed within a couple possessions and knotted the score 65-65 when senior Kwan Cheatham made one of two free throws.
The two teams traded the lead emerged in front for good, 74-73, when Johnson, the 2017 MAC Player of the Year, split a pair of charity tosses.
After Johnson made a steal on UH’s next possession, junior Noah Robotham was fouled and made a pair of free throws to give the Zips a 76-73 lead. Gray responded with a driving layup with 9.7 seconds left, bringing the lead back to one 76-75.
When UA inbounded the ball, Robotham was fouled again. He stepped to the charity stripe and made two more foul shots for the final points of the game.
Houston had a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime. However Dotson’s long three-point attempt hit the front of the rim. Robotham grabbed the rebound and the victory belonged to Akron.
The seventh-seeded Zips will now advance to the second round of the NIT to play No. 6 seed UT Arlington on Monday, March 27 at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas (8 p.m. ET). The Mavericks posted a 105-89 victory at Brigham Young Wednesday.