The Irish never trailed after the first three minutes but struggled to shake the scrappy Zips, leading 34-30 at the half, and 48-42 with just over 10 minutes remaining. Thereafter Notre Dame's interior defense took over, with player of the game Carleton Scott's presence on the defensive backboard paving the way to an 11-3 run over the ensuing six minutes, en route to a 69-56 victory Friday afternoon.
Scott, who finished with a game-high 14 rebounds, controlled the paint for the heavily favored Irish, deterring myriad Zips short-range offerings with four blocked shots while altering several attempts at the rim.
The #2 seed Irish enjoyed their requisite obscene advantage at the charity stripe, knocking down 20 of 26 free throws while Akron netted just three points in six free shots
The Zips stayed close prior to intermission with a surprising 18-14 rebounding advantage including five from the offensive glass. Notre Dame regrouped and ultimately won the battle of the boards, 35-27, with seniors Tyrone Nash (7) and Tim Abromaitis (6) aiding Scott's career-best tying effort.
Though he was off-the-mark for the second consecutive contest, Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough led all scorers on the afternoon, hitting for 15 points on a 4-11 shooting effort from the field. Abromaitis scored 14, including a 3-3 performance from beyond the arc and Scott Martin added 11 with six points and four rebounds.
Akron finished with just one player in double figures, swingman Quincy Diggs, who scored 11 points on 5-7 shooting. Zeke Marshall, the Zips 7-foot pivot, scored just 5 points while suffering through a 2-13 shooting effort. Marshall blocked four shots and altered several others but the lack of offensive punch from underdog Akron ultimately doomed their upset bid.
The Zips shot just 36 percent from the floor, faring no better from long range (7-20), while Notre Dame broached 45 percent from the field including a 7-17 effort from beyond the arc.
"I thought the beginning of the second half we defended well, and we slowed down a little bit offensively," said Brey post-game. "I think we were a little wired in the first half. We were a little more patient. I loved how we rebounded the ball, especially Carleton."
Brey's two-man bench provided a major boost after Martin found early foul trouble, gaining eight points freshman point guard Eric Atkins and four from sophomore center Jack Cooley. Tyrone Nash added nine points, seven rebounds, and three assists while aiding Scott in defense of the imposing Marshall.
The Irish advanced to face the winner of Friday afternoon's contest between #7 seed Texas A&M and #10 Florida State.