KINGSTON, R.I. (AP) — Akeem Richmond scored 14 of his 16 points during a big first-half run as Rhode Island defeated Northwestern 76-64 on Wednesday night in an NIT opener.
The Rams (24-9) will host a second-round game against Nevada, which beat Wichita State.
Rhode Island lost a bid to the NCAA tournament by losing six of its last 10 games, and was determined to end its season on a winning note.
"This is our third straight NIT," Rhode Island's Will Martel said. "We laid an egg my freshman year. We were up 18 at the half against Creighton and lost (74-73). There's no way that's ever going to happen again. That was embarrassing."
Michael Thompson led the Wildcats (20-14) with 24 points, while Northwestern's leading scorer, John Shurna, was held to 15 — 3.3 below his season average.
Northwestern led 22-20 when Richmond scored 14 consecutive points for Rhode Island in a span of 3:07 which helped give the Rams a 34-28 lead. Richmond connected on all four of his 3-pointers during the run.
"We know what the NIT is," Martel said. "We've only been to the second round, but we're experienced. I think we've got a good shot (at winning the championship)."
Rhode Island's Orion Outerbridge converted a three-point play with 1:04 left in the half to give the Rams a 37-30 lead at intermission.
Richmond acknowledged that he relished the chance to play against a zone — Northwestern alternated between a 1-3-1 and a matchup — instead of man-to-man defense.
"I knew I was going to tear that apart," Richmond said. "I was telling my teammates that before I even got on the court because I could see the gaps in it. I could see where I was going to get open shots.
"My father and coaches have told me how other teams are going to play me for the 3-point shot. They've said its going to be easy if they run out there and I hit them with a pump fake, that'll leave me wide open. It's definitely been working.
Shurna averaged 18.3 points and shot 46.4 percent before the NIT, but coach Jim Baron alternated five players on him within the context of his team's man-to-man defense.
"Hes very good because he can shoot the ball, he can pass the ball and he can handle the ball," Baron said. "We just kept throwing different guys at him and they did a great job of being physical and making him work for everything he needed to get."
The closest Northwestern could get in the second half was 41-39, but Rhode Island went on an 8-0 run to break the game open.
"We don't want to be in the NIT next year, to tell you the truth," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "We won 17 games last year, 20 this year and we have most of our players back."