Wildcats Advance By Akron

Northwestern advanced to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament with a 76-74 win over the Akron Zips. The Wildcats now travel to Seattle for a meeting with the top-seeded Washington Huskies.

Bill Carmody leaned back, took a deep breath, and relaxed during his postgame press conference. Northwestern has seen its share of heartbreaking finishes this season. The Wildcats escaped with a 76-74 win over Akron in first-round NIT action.

Akron guard Alex Abreu fired up a potential game-winning three-pointer, but it banked off the rim and out. Northwestern survived, but not without another nail-biter.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking," junior forward Drew Crawford said. "We've lost so many close games this year, we didn't want to go down that way. We fought till the end, so we were all glad to see that shot miss."

Northwestern led by as much as 15 during the first half, but the Zips battled back. Chauncey Gilliam drilled a three-pointer, then Alex Abreu and Quincy Diggs added layups to close the first half.

Crawford started the second half with a three-pointer -- part of his 27-point performance -- but the Zips reeled off nine consecutive points. The Wildcats' once-comfortable lead was cut down to two points. Akron would later take the lead.

"We got a little sloppy toward the end of the first half," said Bill Carmody. "That kind of brought them back in the game."

The Wildcats' worst nightmare appeared to be unfolding in the closing minute. With his team leading by three, John Shurna turned the ball to Akron.

With the Zips trailing by three, Quincy Diggs hit his first free throw, then his second shot was deflected out of bounds off a Wildcat. Akron had the last shot. Northwestern's season stayed alive.

In a high-pressure game, fighting to continue his season, John Shurna wasn't feeling the pressure.

"To be honest, I was having the most fun out there today for a while," said Shurna, who surpassed the 2,000-point mark in the win. "I was pretty loose. I was just trying to have fun."

Northwestern aims to advance in the NIT and earn its 20th win for the third straight season when it travels to Seattle for a Friday night matchup with the Washington Huskies. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. local time.

The Wildcats' 2011 campaign ended in the state of Washington last season, with a loss to the WSU Cougars. They hope for a different result in this trip to the northwest.

"Two different years, two different games, two different teams, too," said Crawford. "We're going to prepare these next couple days in practice and get ready for the game on Friday."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college football, college basketball and college baseball for Fox Sports & Scout.com since 2009. He served as a writer for Big Red Report, covering Nebraska athletics, and is now the Publisher of PurpleWildcats.com, covering the Northwestern Wildcats.
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