HOUSTON - University of Houston guards Rob Gray and Damyean Dotson combined for 43 points to lead the Cougars, but it would not be quite enough as Akron claimed a 78-75 win during the NIT First Round on Wednesday evening inside H&PE Arena.
Gray, who entered the game as the American Athletic Conference's leading scorer with 20.3 points per game, led all players with 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting with five rebounds.
Competing in his final collegiate game, Dotson finished with 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting and snared six rebounds with a pair of assists. The Houston native and Jack Yates native drained four 3-pointers to extend his school-record streak at 32 straight games with at least one trey.
Dotson's basket to give Houston a 72-71 lead with just under two minutes left in the game put him over 1,000 points during his career. He became the 47th member of that exclusive group in school history and the second this season, joining Gray.
Houston finished the 2016-17 season with a 21-11 overall record. Akron improved to 27-8 and advanced to face the winner of Wednesday's BYU-UT Arlington game in the NIT Second Round.
The game was evenly fought throughout the night with 15 ties and 16 lead changes and neither team able to build more than a seven-point lead.
Houston built a 35-34 lead by halftime and held a 65-59 lead on senior center Bertrand Nkali's dunk with 6:30 remaining. However, the Zips scored the next six points and tied the game at 65-65 on Kwan Cheatham Jr.'s free throws with 4:10 to go.
The two teams went back and forth from there. Dotson's jumper with 1:51 left gave Houston a 72-17 and moved him past the 1,000-point mark, but Jimond Ivey gave the Zips a 73-72 lead with a pair of free throws 30 seconds later.
Houston sophomore point guard Galen Robinson Jr. knotted the game at 73-73, sinking 1-of-2 free throws with 53 seconds remaining. On the ensuing possession, Akron center Isaiah Johnson was fouled and hit 1-of-2 free throws to give the Zips the lead for good with 38 seconds left.
With a turnover on their next possession, the Cougars were forced to foul, and Akron's Noah Robotham made four free throws in the final 18 seconds to ice the win.
Junior forward Devin Davis finished with 10 points and led the Cougars with seven rebounds before fouling out.
Johnson led Akron with 21 points, while Ivey finished with 10 points. Cheatham totaled nine points and led all players with nine rebounds and three blocks.
The Cougars played at H&PE Arena on the campus of nearby Texas Southern for the first time as Hofheinz Pavilion undergoes a $60 million renovation to become the Fertitta Center for the 2018-19 season. Houston will play an undetermined number of games in that facility during the 2017-18 season as the project is completed.
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