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Here is today's surprise in the Brett McKnight saga: He's off the roster. They even deleted his stats on the front page of tonight's media packet. McKnight traveled with the team to Dayton, but did not dress. I didn't see him come out with the team tonight. Certainly, we will ask Keith Dambrot about this after the game.
Brian Walsh is wearing a medical boot on his left foot. He is sitting out this year per NCAA rules after transferring from Xavier. Normally, it wouldn't matter much, but the Zips are grooming Walsh to play some point guard next season, when he will be a sophomore.
Akron's starters: Zeke Marshall, Nik Cvetinovic, Brett McClanahan, Darryl Roberts and Steve McNees.
Youngstown State has played twice this season, beating Samford by 3 and Buffalo by 11, both at home.
Even though Akron is expected to win tonight (line: Zips minus 12), you can tell the level of competition has picked up quite a bit from the prior two games against non-Dvision I teams.
Marshall and Cvetinovic have each hoisted shots well outside their respective ranges. It's a good rule of thumb to say don't shoot if they don't rush out to guard you.
Akron is about to substitute out almost its entire starting lineup. One of the players coming in is Dakotah Euton. Dambrot told us last week that Euton would redshirt. Apparently that changed with the McKnight possible dismissal. Roberts was the only starter to stay on the floor.
If McKnight is gone, Akron's depth won't suffer. The Zips have a lot of bodies who can play small forward. It will mean more minutes for Euton, McClanahan, Quincy Diggs and Josh Egner. But Akron does lose a big scorer.
Almost midway through the first half, only three Zips have scored: Cvetinovic (6), McClanahan (6) and Roberts (3).
McClanahan is becoming a "player." By that I don't mean his girfriend, if any, should be worried. I mean he's becoming a guy who other teams will need to gameplan for. And he's someone that Akron would miss. His defense has improved. His rebounding numbers are great (5.0 per game). You can tell he's becoming a leader, too.
I have been impressed tonight with Akron's interior passing. Cvetinovic has made a few good dishes to Marshall. The most recent resulted in a Marshall thunder-dunk. McNees tossed up an alley-oop to Marshall off the dribble. For being such a jovial, innocent kid, Marshall lashes out aggressively on dunks and when he's looking to swat a shot.
With that said, Youngstown State has done a good job pushing Marshall around. The referees have complied with this plan by not calling any loose ball fouls on rebounds.
Speaking of "players," I really like Egner. He's confident, mature, intelligent and as athletic as anyone in the conference. Dambrot was being cautious in the press conference last week when he said, "It's good for us, because I get to see guys like (Egner) who I normally don't see." In my humble opinion, you will see more Josh Egner than you ever expected come this spring. If he can develop a jump shooting range out to 15 feet, watch out.
Diggs just wound up on the wrong end of a Kendrick Perry poster. It was a fast break and Diggs trailed the play, looking for the LeBron-esque chase-down swat. Perry exploded and threw down with both hands.
The Zips are playing a sloppy game. They have nine turnovers. It's not the same offense I saw on Tuesday at Dayton, when the Zips were running an effective inside-then-outside game. The ball went into Marshall, then was kicked out for a clear 3 attempt. Akron hasn't found that rhythm yet.
Jimmy Conyers is sitting courtside. The Erie BayHawks drafted him into the NBA's Developmental League eight days before cutting him. Ironically, his predecessor as Akron's small forward is still on the team. Nate Linhart has played in one game for Erie and scored 11 points.
Notable halftime stats: Akron 34, YSU 34. YSU is shooting 33 percent; Akron is 48 percent. The Zips have 10 turnovers; YSU has five. McClanahan has game-highs with 11 points, three turnovers and four rebounds. Perry, a 6-foot YSU guard, has four assists.
It was a "blah" first half for Akron. YSU should feel very fortunate to be tied, despite making only 3-of-15 on 3-point attempts.
Kent State's football team lost 38-3 today at Western Michigan. This is significant because the Flashes lost their seventh game and thus will not be bowl-eligible. Dave Carducci of the Record Courier said before the game that it's "unlikely" coach Doug Martin would be back for his eighth season if the Flashes don't go .500 (and today's loss clinches that they won't).
The official word is that McKnight is suspended indefinitely for violation of "university policy." This is different than previous Dambrot suspensions for violations of "team rules." That tells me that it's not entirely an internal decision from the coaching staff.
YSU has gone to a 2-3 zone to begin the second half. This is all the more reason to go to the inside-outside game. Feed Marshall and allow him to drop in baby hooks or dish it out to the perimeter.
The Penguins have opened up a five-point lead with some sweet 3-point shooting.
Update on the Martin/KSU issue: I texted my buddy who works for Kent State. Me: "Any chance Doug Martin comes back?" Him: "Any chance the sun doesn't come up tomorrow?" Me: "It's Northeast Ohio. So yes."
A guy with the band is banging a cowbell. You'll never hear me protest about there being too much cowbell. (See below)
The referee finally called an over-the-back foul on YSU. The Penguins are an aggressive rebounding team. When the refs swallow their whistles, like in the first half, they have an advantage. YSU has 10 offensive rebounds tonight (Akron has six).
A block from Marshall might have swung the game permanently. The block sent Akron running the other way for an easy Cvetinovic layup. YSU called timeout. The fans are into the game. It's a pretty large crowd, too.
The Zips might have three players with career highs in points. Cvetinovic has 19 points, which is beyond his previous high of 15. McClanahan is six away from his high of 21. Marshall is one away from his high of 17.
Cvetinovic is really working it on offense tonight. He appears willing to take over and get the Zips a basket on critical possessions.
Egner and Marshall have shot 18 free throws combined, and made eight of them.
Marshall blocked a shot with two minutes left. His aggression in blocking became a curse on the next possession. He left the paint to pursue a player shooting from eight feet out. The shot missed, but Akron didn't have a rebounder to collect the change. YSU scored with a foul. The Penguins are up two with 1:09 to play.
McClanahan jump stopped at the foul line and spun home a jumper. Tie game.
YSU kicked the ball out to Devonte Maymon, who hit a wide-open 3. Penguins lead by three with 25 seconds left.
I've been to a lot of games at Rhodes Arena. That was the most amazing moment yet. Akron didn't get off a shot until 10 seconds were left. Roberts bricked it. Marshall rebounded it and tossed it to McNees, who missed another. Marshall leaped up to catch another board. As he stumbled, Marshall zipped it out to McClanahan, who swished a fall-away 3 from the near the Akron bench. We're going to overtime. WOW.
After a play like that, you often hear people say, "Team A has the momentum going into overtime." In my experience watching college basketball, I'm not sure that helps. The team that ties the game dramatically doesn't usually stomp on the opponent's throat in the extra five minutes.
Marshall and McClahanan are both one point away from matching career highs.
Youngstown State keeps pouring in 3-pointers. It reminds me of what Akron was able to do for a short time at Dayton. As Akron learned, you cannot rely exclusively on that strategy, though.
If I'm a YSU fan, I'm going to be really ticked off at coach Jerry Slocum. He should have instructed his team to consider fouling when the ball is inside the arc. The Penguins had two chances to hammer Marshall and they just played it normally. I would be shouting "FOUL!" at the top of my lungs from the bench.
The Zips regained the lead on Cvetinovic free throws. Then they put together their best defensive stand of the night. YSU chucked up a 3 attempt that missed everything but backboard. McClanahan hit a runner on the other end. Akron forced a turnover. Marshall made a jump hook. Just like that, the Zips opened up the gash. Winning by five with 52 seconds left. YSU timeout.
The Zips fouled Maymon, who made both free throws. Now YSU will try to press and foul, down three with 40 seconds left. Dambrot should put the following players on the floor: McNees, Roberts, McClanahan, Cvetinovic and Euton (the foul shooters and ball handlers). He put Marshall in, instead of Euton, for the size advantage to catch an inbounds pass.
Roberts committed an offensive foul by chucking a guy on a screen. He used his elbow, which makes the call easy for the refs.
YSU missed a 3, got the rebound and traveled with it. The ball goes back to Akron with 27 seconds left, Zips up three.
Upon the inbounds pass, two Penguins assaulted Roberts. His free throw attempts touched nothing but net, and only barely net.
YSU came up without points on another possession. Marshall rebounded it in the corner (then threw an unnoticed elbow) and got fouled. He made both shots.
Marshall punctuated an exciting game by blocking a meaningless Penguins' 3 attempt at the buzzer.
Final-OT -- Akron 91, Youngstown State 84
Three Zips have new career scoring highs: Marshall (22), McClanahan (22) and Cvetinovic (27). Roberts added 11. Outside of those four, Akron only scored nine points. McClanahan also grabbed 10 boards for a career high. McNees had five assists, but only two points.
Final stats of note: YSU made 6-of-11 3-point attempts since halftime. Vytas Sulskis of YSU scored 20 and grabbed seven rebounds. YSU shot 38.9 percent for the game (Akron was 55.6 percent).
Jerry Slocum quotes:
"We were one rebound away from winning the basketball game. In that situation, we've gotta get one rebound. He made a big shot. We missed some foul shots in overtime. That was the difference."
"We would have considered fouling with four to five seconds left. If it was a knocked out ball, we could have set our defense and we would have definitely fouled."
"We're going to take a bunch of 3s this year. That's our personality. In our first road game, I thought we battled for forty minutes. I thought our guys did a good job working hard all night."
Keith Dambrot quotes:
"That game kind of reminded me of my first year when we played (YSU). They had us down and we struggled. That guy (Slocum) has won a lot of games. I think they came in with a better belief structure than before. They deserved to win in a lot of ways. We had a tough time. We just couldn't guard them. We played some pretty good zone in stretches and the final six seconds we'd blow it."
"I didn't think we were really ready to play. Zeke played only a third of the game. He's gotta start manning up and fighting his own battles. He's gotta play better than that. We are slim on our bench now because a lot of our guys are young. I like those kids but they've gotta get ready before they can play. We are about as thin as they've ever been bench-wise."
"I don't care how (Cvetinovic) plays offensively. He made some big buckets, but we need him to get eight to 10 rebounds per game and guard the best player. We have rebounded the ball poorly at the 4 and 5 for the last few years. Those big guys have got to get some rebounds. We can't win if (Marshall) doesn't get eight to 10 rebounds per game."
"We've had a lot of (dramatic shots) recently. But I give McClahanan a lot of credit on the offensive side. He has paid his dues. He had a short string last year."
"I don't know (whether McKnight will play again). He's got to abide by the rules. We have to wait on that. It's an athletic department/team decision. It's quite a blow for us. We were preparing to play with him. So we have to get the young kids ready to play. I like Brett McKnight. Nobody's bigger than the team, including the coach."
"Two games in a row, we have done a poor job of keeping guys off their strong hands. We need to pack it in. They got on a little role where they drove and kicked it back out on us."
"We got to get more out of Diggs and Alex. I was mad at Diggs, that's why I didn't play him."
"Nik stood and watched (when YSU took a three-point lead near the end of regulation), if I remember correctly."
On why McNees was yelling at McClanahan: "We butchered the play call. Specifically, McClahahan butchered the play call. McNees got on him and said, 'You can't butcher that play call.'"
"We used more zone than we've played in at least three years."
"We've been trying to get (Cleveland State) to play. So obviously Gary (Waters) thinks he's good and doesn't think we're good. It's a good series for the fans. They're better than us right now. We scrimmaged them last year, so we know a lot about them."
Nik Cvetinovic quotes:
"This game goes to our buddy Shawn who we met at Children's Hospital."
"We're expecting big things from (Marshall). Sometimes he's bringing it; sometimes he's not. There's no more excuses. If he goes, we go. If he was playing from the get-go like that, we would not need to go into overtime."
"The gameplan was to go inside and use our size. We are a little bit bigger than them. If we get that inside-to-outside game going, we can be really good."
"The whole left leg was locked up. Our trainer took care of it."
Brett McClanahan quotes:
"I was just trying to get the rebound again. Zeke went up and got a man's board. He got it to me. At that point, there's no thought to it."
"Absolutely (it was the most exciting moment in his career). It was raw emotion after I hit it. We had a scare there in regulation. They played very well. They did some things that threw us for a whirl. We came out lackadaisically. We got away with one tonight."
"(Marshall) played well as of late. He has played through adversity."