Arlington -- In the first NIT game ever hosted at UT Arlington, the Mavericks used suffocating defense and efficient offense to blow out Akron, winning in dominating fashion 85-69.
Mavs head coach Scott Cross said the team's defense on Akron's leading scorer, Isaiah Johnson keyed the victory. UTA held him to just 9 points, well before the MAC player of the year's season average of 17.
The win advances the Mavericks to the NIT quarterfinals, putting them one step away from a trip to New York for the NIT's version of the final four. UTA will face either CSU Bakersfield or Colorado St. Wednesday night at 8 pm.
If Bakersfield field is next up, the Mavericks would have another home game.
UTA players said the crowd nearly 5,400 made an impact. Guard Erick Neal hit a couple of three-pointers during a 13-4 run to start the second half, and said he the fans made him feel like he, "couldn't miss."
Akron must have felt something similar because the Mavericks offense was humming all night. They shot better than 53 percent and had 21 assists on 33 made buckets.
The exclamation point came midway through the second half when Neal took a steal and delivered a bounce pass alley-oop for Nathan Hawkins that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Sun Belt conference player of the year Kevin Hervey set the tone for the Mavericks scoring his team's first 5 points and ended up with 13 for the night.
Kaelon Wilson, starting for injured senior Jalen Jones, led the way with 18 points.
With 3-and-a-half minutes left in the first half, Neal made a pretty feed to Wilson in transition and he threw down a thunderous dunk, bringing the College Park Center crowd to its' feet, putting the Mavs in front by 10.
In the first half, the Mavs hit 17-of-33 (51.5%) shots, leading by as many as 15 points, and took a 39-26 lead into halftime.