Conference USA takes center stage in the NIT championship game when North Texas and UAB meet for the fourth time this season on Thursday in Las Vegas.
Second-seeded North Texas (30-7) and the fourth-seeded Blazers (29-9) are each seeking their first NIT title after semifinal victories on Tuesday.The Mean Green knocked off fellow second-seed Wisconsin 56-54 before UAB pulled out an 88-86 overtime win against unseeded Utah Valley later that night.
UAB lost to North Texas twice during the regular season before a 76-69 win in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament on March 10. UAB lost in the final to Florida Atlantic, which went on to make its first Final Four appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mean Green, who lead the country in scoring defense at 55.7 points per game, held Wisconsin scoreless for the final 9:07 and ended the game on a 10-0 run for their seventh win in their past eight games.
The Mean Green limited the Badgers to just three points in the final 13:10 and took their first lead of the game at 56-54 on Moulaye Sissoko's short jumper in the lane with 2:07 left. North Texas trailed 45-33 early in the second half.
The Badgers missed two free throws with 49.1 seconds left and failed to get a shot off on their final possession with 5.8 seconds remaining.
Wisconsin missed 15 of its final 16 shots.
The Mean Green were led by Tylor Perry, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the first 20 minutes, in addition to finishing with five rebounds. Rubin Jones scored all of his 12 points in the second half, and Kai Huntsberry finished with 12 points, five assists and four rebounds.
"I can't explain the words right now or the feeling it would mean if we do cut those nets down on Thursday," said Perry, who averages a team-high 17.2 points per game. "It's a feeling you really can't explain, and I wouldn't want to share a locker room with any other team than those guys. I want that moment for them."
North Texas should be tested by the Blazers, whose 81.1 points per game rank 10th nationally.
After squandering a four-point lead in the final 2:12 of regulation against Utah Valley, the Blazers led by as many as five in overtime before the Wolverines tied the game at 83 with 1:02 left.
But Ty Brewer's jumper gave UAB an 85-83 lead it wouldn't relinquish with 45 seconds left before Jordan "Jelly" Walker's two free throws made it a four-point game with 12 seconds to play.
Brewer, who averages 8.0 points per game, scored a career-high 30 points on 13-for-17 shooting from the field, including going 4-for-5 from 3-point range. He also had a team-high 12 rebounds and five steals.
Walker, who averages a team-leading 22.3 points per game, added 17 points, six assists and five rebounds. Eric Gaines scored seven of his 13 points in overtime.
"Tonight was a big deal," said Gaines, whose team has won 12 of its past 13 games. "We needed to win. We got it going into the next game against North Texas. Same deal. We got to go in, dogfight and come out with the W."
--Field Level Media