Northwestern, which eliminated the Yellow Jackets from the playoffs last season with a three-point home victory in Rock Hill, S.C., came out the more aggressive team.
The Trojans (14-12) led 21-17 at the half thanks in part to penetration inside and offensive rebounding from Labris Adams, who led the Trojans with 16 points.
The Jackets shifted defensive tactics in the second half, shoring up the holes in the paint and forcing the Trojans to shoot from the outside. The strategy worked, as North Augusta held Northwestern scoreless for the first six minutes of the third quarter and took a 26-21 lead.
"We backed off of them a little bit and tried to keep them from penetrating so much," Jackets coach Al Young said. "We knew they could shoot some 3s, but they weren't hurting us with that early so we just backed off and took the penetration away."
The Trojans briefly regained the lead in the fourth at 32-31, but a Bryan Narcisse layup with 5:20 to play put the Jackets ahead for good. Narcisse led the Jackets with 16 points and hit two key free throws in the final two minutes.
But the win wasn't secured until the final minute, when guard Darell Curry scored all of his seven points from the free-throw line on eight attemps.
"I gotta make them and let my team win," Curry said.
Young said Curry's free-throw shooting made the difference.
"(Curry was) big with free throws. He was just deadly," he said. "I think if (we) didn't go to the free-throw line and make those, the results would have been different."
Down four at the half, Young said he told his squad the game wasn't about revenge.
"I really didn't talk to this team about revenge. I just told them we had to play well and get it done tonight," Young said. "It's not about revenge but about playing well and taking it to the next step."
The Jackets will play host to the winner of Wren-South Pointe at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Reach J. Scott Trubey at (706) 823-3424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.