Paris Gulley scored 21 points and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee took the lead for good in the first 45 seconds of overtime to claim an 80-73 win over Northern Illinois Friday night at the Klotsche Center.
The Panthers (3-6) actually led by as many as 11 points in the first half and by 10 in the second half before having to rally over the last nine minutes of regulation.
Akeem Springs led Northern Illinois (2-6) with 21 points off the bench.
The victory snapped a five-game losing streak by Milwaukee.
"It seems like nothing is going to be easy this year, but I'm proud of the fact that these guys came out with a better effort and competed hard and found a way to win a game that at times we made very difficult," Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter said. "It's just where we are right now and what we're trying to get out of. We found a way, and we're just going to try to keep building from here."
Milwaukee went ahead 70-68 in overtime on a Kelm layin with 4:15 left and eventually led 75-69 on a free throw by Aaron with 2:24 remaining. Northern Illinois pulled to within 75-73 with just over a minute left and had a chance to take the lead after a Milwaukee turnover, but the Panthers then made five of their final six free throws to hang on.
The Panthers steadily built a lead in the first 20 minutes. After Northern Illinois claimed a 14-10 advantage, Milwaukee responded with the next six to take the lead. The lead was 23-18 on a Gulley three and then a three-point play by Haarsma made it 31-22 with 3:56 remaining.
The Milwaukee advantage hit double-figures at 37-26 on a three by Austin Arians and UWM led 37-28 at the half.
UWM looked to still be in control of the contest early in the second half, maintaining a 49-39 lead after a thrilling sequence that started with a Kelm block and ended with an Aaron to Demetrius Harris alley-oop. But NIU wasted little time in responding, scoring 13 of the next 15 points to grab a 52-51 lead with 10:40 remaining.
The Huskies eventually went up 60-55 with under nine minutes to play and were ahead 62-58 with seven minutes left before Milwaukee rallied. The Panthers went back ahead 63-62 on a pair of Aaron free throws with 4:56 remaining and still led 67-64 on a pair of Aaron free throws with 1:18 remaining. NIU eventually tied the game at 68 on a follow-up basket by Aksel Bolin with 16.5 seconds left. UWM had a final chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Aaron missed a three-pointer just before the buzzer.
The Panthers return to the road for their next two games. Sunday Milwaukee plays at DePaul in a 4 p.m. contest before squaring off with Fairfield in Bridgeport, Conn., Wednesday evening.