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Today, coaches are wearing tennis shoes for the Coaches vs. Cancer. I have to give props to Rick McFadden, who matched his lime green tennies to his shirt.
It's still 10 minutes before gametime, but attendance is looking bleak, particularly in the chairback section. And don't tell me everyone's staying home to watch the Pro Bowl.
To look at the MAC standings is depressing. Six games in, and Akron is 2-4. Only Toledo has fewer wins. And the Zips haven't even played the toughest West teams, Ball State and Western Michigan. The good news is, this always comes down to one weekend in March. If Akron gets hot in time for the MAC Tournament, it won't matter if its conference record is 14-2 or 2-14. I think the Ohio Bobcats proved that last year.
The bigger concern is the possible existence of a systemic defensive problem. Are the Zips too soft to clamp down? Is there a guy on the roster who relishes the challenge of holding a Xavier Silas or D.J. Cooper to single digits?
Then again, some better shooting could make the problems appear smaller than they are.
Keith Dambrot received a nice ovation for winning his 150th game at Akron, which happened last week against Bowling Green.
Bowling Green's starters: Tre Zeigler, Derek Jackson, Will McClure, Andre Coimbra and Jalin Thomas.
Akron's starters: Steve McNees, Brett McClanahan, Darryl Roberts, Nik Cvetinovic and Zeke Marshall. Roberts is starting instead of Alex Abreu.
Marshall cleared a rebound and swung his elbow, catching McClure in the face. No whistle. That's two of those calls that the refs have missed recently, after the horrible call against Ohio.
Coimbra has a wild Anderson Varejao haircut. Like Varejao, Coimbra is from Brazil.
CMU coach Ernie Zeigler used the Coaches vs. Cancer day to go business-casual, with a polo and slacks. I would feel a little underdressed.
To clear up what might have been a misconception, I did not call for Dambrot's firing last week. Here was my quote:
The men, too, are not playing well. As you probably read in Tom Gaffney’s story, the Zippers haven’t had a four-game losing streak since the Dan Hipsher days. It’s time to fire Keith Dambrot, I say. (I bet a third of the Zips fanbase just nodded their heads to that ludicrous statement.)
The Zips have been playing with more energy today. The players are showing more pep on the bench and in timeouts.
A nice tribute was paid to the military during a timeout. It's hard to imagine being halfway around the world, in harsh conditions, with bullets flying, without the basic comforts or luxuries, and not being able to spend time with the people you love.
Coimbra and Marshall met at the summit, when Marshall attempted to convert an alley-oop from Roberts. Coimbra was called for a foul, but he showed his athleticism to get up that high with an athletic 7-footer.
There have been 11 combined turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game. Neither team is pressing, either. It's been a fast-paced game. Akron is even running off made baskets.
The Zips have been playing zone defense tonight.
We have another "elbow replay" stoppage. This is ridiculous. The verdict is ... no intentional foul on CMU.
A sign in the bleachers says: "Zeke and Destroy." Clever.
We are keeping up the average of more than one turnover per minute. The teams have combined for 14 with eight minutes left in the half.
Play of the game: Quincy Diggs led the break and dished a no-look seed to Cvetinovic, who dunked with two hands over Zeigler.
Akron's offense has looked really bad tonight, but somehow the Zips are winning by 10. Someone will have to explain to me how we can go a full half without posting up your 7-footer.
Roberts shot a runner that got wedged into the rim. That's a jump ball. Marshall got an easy dunk on the following inbound pass.
With the clock ticking toward zero, McClanahan recovered a loose ball while his momentum carried him toward halfcourt. Rather than turning around for a shot, he glanced at the clock on the opposite basket, and hurled an underhand shot over his head. The backward shot hit the back of the rim, nearly becoming McClanahan's SportsCenter moment.
Notable halftime stats: Akron shot 46.2 percent, compared to 26.9 percent for CMU. Marshall leads both teams with eight points. Cvetinovic has five rebounds. McNees has three assists. Brett McKnight has three fouls. There have been 17 turnovers (nine for Akron, eight for CMU). The Zips have 20 points in the paint, compared to the Chippewas' four.
CMU's 18 points is the fewest amount any opponent this year in a half (not including Milikin).
They honored athletes who made the Dean's List (3.25 GPA or higher) at halftime. Nine members of the national championship men's soccer team were on the floor, including goalie David Meves. The football team had its highest team GPA in five years.
I asked Dambrot a little while ago what he'd do with $10 million. He talked about making Rhodes Arena fan-friendly. Essentially, they would need to make the arena one level, taking out the track. Practically, that would be a huge construction job, and I can't imagine it getting done in less than six months. Without Memorial Hall, Akron would need a temporary home for men's games (they might be able to do it in phases, so as to allow other sports to hold home games/matches).
Anyhow, Tom Gaffney came up with an interesting idea. Akron and Kent might want to enter into a partnership to allow the Flashes to use Rhodes Arena and the Zips to use the M.A.C. Center over a five-year span. Wouldn't that be a unique twist on the rivalry?
Marshall didn't start the second half. He is stretching his leg in the corner of the arena. He came in after a couple minutes.
Timeout for football ... National Letter of Intent signing day is Wednesday, with the press conference coming at 4:30 p.m. Here is a story about junior college quarterback commitment Clayton Moore, who began his career at Ole Miss.
As badly as CMU has shot tonight, the Zips should have already buried them. The Romeo Travis/Dru Joyce teams would have the Chips already thinking about what seat on the bus they want to take.
Akron is coming upon a part in the schedule that could permit them to get back into the MAC race. They play two winable road games next week at Eastern Michigan and Toledo. The team comes home for two difficult, but winable, crossover games against Western Michigan and Ball State.
Despite all that, don't take solace in this win (if it comes to fruition). CMU is baaaaaaaad. They don't know what they're doing on offense. It goes beyond having a poor shooting and having a high turnover night. It would have been nice to play them at Mount Pleasant, because it would be a sure win no matter the venue.
Trey Zeigler has made only 3-of-15 field goal attempts. He was highly recruited (offers from Duke, Michigan State, Arizona and others), but decided to play for his father (Ernie).
Coimbra fouled out after hammering Mike Bardo. The AK-Rowdies shouted "sit down" to Coimbre right as Bardo launched his first free throw attempt, which missed. It was ill-timed.
Neither team deserves much praise after tonight. Akron would have lost to a decent team with that performance. CMU would've struggled against Miliken.
Akron has slowly broken this game open. The lead is 16 with 2:16 left.
Coach Zeigler just sprinted toward the referee to call a 30-second timeout. Considering that this game is basically decided, it was odd.
Marshall got a strong ovation as he left the floor with 16 points, but only three rebounds.
Dakotah Euton entered the game for the first time with less than a minute left. I'm guessing the coaching staff would like to have his redshirt back.
Final Score - Akron 63, Central Michigan 43
Notable final stats: Marshall led scorers with 16 and was 5-for-5 from the field. Cvetinovic had 10 rebounds. McNees had four assists. Akron finished with 17 turnovers; CMU had 15. Akron shot 47.8 percent; CMU was 30.4 percent. The Chips made only 4-of-14 free throw attempts (28.6 percent). Akron smoked CMU in points in the paint, 32 to 12.
Marshall is now second place on the career blocks list with 110. He trails Travis with 126.
Bardo had a season high with six rebounds. His career high is eight.
"The best thing about the game is that nobody threw tomatoes at me when I got my game ball before the game. It's good that the fans still like me. I haven't liked myself too much through this. This has been hard for us. It's been hard on our team, the older guys. I'm proud that they responded well."
"It was a must-win. You only get so many opportunities to turn your season around. I still believe we can have a good season, but it has to start day by day by day. Two weeks from now, if we take care of business, we will be in position to have a good season."
"We played more zone. We tried to slow the game down more. They played slow on top of it, which helped us. We want to get to the last two minutes with a chance to win games."
"I told them, 'Look, let me try to fix you.' We're going to go back to the basics, one-on-one. Treat it like a preseason again. We played more zone. We worked on that. You can be a little less disciplined in a zone. We have had decision-making problems defensively. I substituted more for mistakes tonight. I played Josh Egner a little, and he gave us some energy."
"This team here might have to play more zone. It's not my cup of tea, but I'll do what it takes. If we have to stall, hold the ball, press. I'll coach any which-way but loose."
"One thing we did was, we have had trouble playing through plays. We would play 20 seconds of good defense, then break down. We did a good job of playing through plays. Zeke helped us at the rim. We made Zeigler shoot over us. Diggs did a good job of that."
"If we could get him (Diggs) over the hump. He doesn't trust the system all the time. The more he can play, the better we can be. But he has to be ready to win big games. You can't turnover four times in 16 games and win big games."
(Zeke) "still doesn't rebound. In fairness to him, he takes a beating. They hang on him, push him, shove him. I can't fight it for him. He's going to have to chest up and fight it himself. The best players in this league have been tough 6-6 guys."
"It's so nice that (the fans) were nice to me. I go to a high school game and people ask me if I'm all right. I'm so thankful because I had three great years at St. V and six great years here. Sometimes that punch in the mouth is needed. Sometimes that challenge, that extra motivation, is what you need."
"What I believe is, we got a lot of reps on defense. We defended the ball. We went back to what coach says his origins of how he wins -- defense. We all had a hunger to win. I was so sick of losing."
"I feel ready (to be part of the offense). I'll do what I need to win the game. Defense or offense."
"I need to get more rebounds. I was in position, but there were times when I was up there and Serb (Cvetinovic) got it. I'm not going to fight for it, just to get my total up."
"Our philosophy is that if you come in here, we're going to beat you. It doesn't matter who you are."
"It was a must-win for us. We lost a couple of games we shouldn't have lost. We worked hard for two, three days, working on defense, getting back to basics. We played pretty good team defense. That was good for us. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling through the West."
"The bottom line is getting on the same page. The games we lost, we were not defensively on the same page. People try to make excuses. When you look at Alex, first year. Zeke, second year. When you have four or five guys who have played more in the game, it's faster paced."
"Coach demands for him (Zeke) to go out and block every shot. Blocking and getting the rebound at the same time is tough."
"Everybody wants to give us their best shot. When we lost four out of five, everybody smelled the blood."
"Akron did a really good job. They've always done a really good job putting us in difficult positions offensively. I thought they had us very much flustered. It compounded for us. It really stagnated us and made us splinter, in terms of making us do things on our own."
"It's trial by error. You just gotta keep being positive and trying to bring guys along and hold them accountable. And trying to get them to execute under pressure."
"This league, historically, the more veteran teams are going to be the more consistent teams, in how you prepare, how you execute."