CLEVELAND: The University of Akron didn’t lose the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship just
because a free throw was ruled a free throw and not a tip-in.
The Zips fell 64-63 to the Ohio University Bobcats Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena because they couldn’t maximize their assets. Especially their biggest asset, 7-foot junior center Zeke Marshall.
In the first three minutes, Marshall seemed at his aggressive best. He was
fortunate that the elbow he swung at Ohio’s Jon Smith underneath the basket
missed by a foot or he would have been called for a flagrant technical, or
Offensively he was unstoppable on lobs, laying in two on passes from Alex Abreu and Nik
After that, Ohio coach John Groce decided to mix defenses on Marshall, trapping him
some. Marshall was stymied the rest of the night, finishing with eight points,
four rebounds, three blocked shots and four turnovers in 31 minutes.
He spent much of the game muttering to himself, perhaps upset with his 3 for 8
field-goal shooting, the Zips’ deficit or the officials’ calls.
“We tried to be as physical as we could with him and not let him get deep post
position because when you’re that big if you get deep post position it’s like
playing Nerf hoop,” Groce said. “I watched my son do that today in my hotel
room and he usually makes about all of those. That’s what’s going to happen
Groce knew that defending Marshall would be the key to the Bobcats reaching the NCAA
Tournament for the second time in three years and the sixth time overall.
When Akron beat Ohio 68-63 at home on Jan. 14, Marshall had 17 points (on 5 of 7
field goals), six rebounds and three blocked shots in 30 minutes. When the
Bobcats routed the Zips 85-61 in Athens on Feb. 26, Marshall was held to four
points (on 1 of 6 field goals) and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
Last year in the MAC Tournament final against Kent State, Marshall was a beast,
blocking a single-game tournament record nine shots and dominating the league’s
player of the year, Justin Greene. Scoring only 32 points in four games, he was
shocked to be voted the tournament’s most valuable player.
On Saturday, the Bobcats saw three minutes of that Marshall. But he still could
have made a huge impact at the end.
Marshall scored the Zips' last field goal on a layup behind his head with 1:43 remaining that cut the deficit to 62-61. When they had the
chance to take the lead off a timeout with 32.7 seconds to go, his tip of Brian Walsh’s miss barely rolled off. On
the phantom tip-in on what was supposed to be an intentional free throw miss by Abreu that bounced in with 6.2 seconds
to play for the game's final score, it was Marshall’s hand that someone thought
they saw, prompting a replay review.
UA coach Keith Dambrot says that with the big fella the Zips always have a chance.
He even felt that way last year before they lost 69-56 to Notre Dame in the
Dambrot also knows that the Zips have loads of talent returning. Besides Marshall, there’s
juniors Quincy Diggs and Chauncey Gilliam and sophomores Alex Abreu, Brian
Walsh, Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell. The past two days Dambrot has
predicted greatness for Abreu, a fearless 5-foot-8 point guard.
“As he gets better conditioned, he understands what he can be, he puts basketball
first, I think he’s next great player for us,” Dambrot said of Abreu. “He’s
such a great kid. It’s hard to explain the camaraderie and the pact we have. I
don’t know it’s because we’re both midgets. I love that kid. I’m glad we have
him and don’t have to play against him.”
The Zips lose only two players who were major contributors – seniors Cvetinovic and
Brett McClanahan – off a team that went 22-11 and won its first regular-season
MAC title with a 13-3 record.
Maximizing Marshall’s talent next season could help the Zips make the leap Dambrot seeks.
He wants his program to be mentioned in the same breath with NCAA Cinderellas
like Gonzaga, Butler, VCU and George Mason.
So it was no wonder Dambrot delicately answered a question on how the Bobcats took
away Marshall Saturday.
“They played the same way they did the last two times. They doubled the ball screen
and they doubled the low post, which means you have to throw out of the low
post,” Dambrot said. “They did what they had to do. We made better adjustments,
played better than we did the last time, the ball just didn’t bounce for us.
“I’m not disappointed. We’ve been fortunate to win some of these games, too. You’ve
got to take the good with the bad sometimes.”
It was probably unintentional, but Dambrot’s last remark carried a double meaning. With Marshall, he’s learned to take the good with the bad.
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