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It's a small crowd, but some might call that comeuppance after losing to Eastern Michigan.
I ran into Andy Alleman before the game, which is only part of the reason I'm late on the blog coverage. He is doing well, trying to determine the next step in his career and whether he'll stay in Akron. If you don't know Andy, he's a former Zips offensive lineman who played a few years in the NFL. Last football season, he served as color commentator alongside Steve French.
WMU's Matt Stainbrook is 6-foot-9 and 290 pounds. He looks a lot more like a football player. But then again, so did current NFL player and former Bronco baller Joe Reitz.
Juwan Howard Jr. is another notable Bronco. I bet you can't guess who his dad is.
This is an important game for the Zips. The next six are going to be serious fights. The Zips are favored tonight by 6.5. I assure you that Akron won't see a positive spread like that until the first round of the MAC Tournament, if at all.
Stainbrook is not in good shape at all. I would play up-tempo every minute that 290-pound truck is on the floor. He does have a nice touch around the rim and a good knack for rebounding, though.
The Zips have kept WMU at arm's length for most of the first half. Partially to blame for the Broncos is the fact they are 0-for-5 on 3s.
I got a text from a crowd member pointing out that WMU coach Steve Hawkins is separated at birth from Andrew Zimmerman, host of "Bizarre Foods." I report, you decide...
If you couldn't tell, Zimmerman is the first picture; Hawkins is second. I have to credit Scott Garnick for pointing that out to me. He's a classmate of mine, and now an intellectual property lawyer. I don't want to get sued for stealing his idea.
The refs just made a boneheaded call. Demetrius Ward was stumbling, about to fall on his face, when he ran into a Zips' player. Rather than the offensive foul, it was a foul on the Zips. It was probably the angriest the fans have been since that unspeakably awful elbow intentional foul from last month.
OK, Zips. Your punishment is over. I intentionally refused to use a single Akron player or coach's name during the first half. It's a mild punishment, considering the crime: losing to Eastern Michigan. I nearly took my diploma off my office wall after that nonsense.
Halftime stats of note: Akron 37, Western Michigan 28. Flenard Whitfield and Nik Cvetinovic each have 10 points. Stainbrook has five rebounds. Steve McNees has dished four assists. Akron is shooting 50 percent; WMU is 34.5 percent. Akron has 10 assists, compared to WMU's four.
Zeke Marshall did not start the second half. Like last home game, he was stretching off to the side. He came in at the 16:55 mark. His first offensive act was a jumper with a foot on the arc. You can guess how that turned out.
Brett McKnight has 11 points. More importantly, he's two away from his 1,000th point. That's impressive because he missed the first half of his freshman year and a good deal of this year.
In other MACtion, it appears as if all six MAC East teams will win this tonight (and Buffalo won last night). The closest game is Ball State at Bowling Green, but the Falcons are leading by six with four minutes left.
Tom Gaffney says: "Where are the students?" I agree. Very weak performance from the AK-Rowdies.
Marshall picked up his fourth foul. He hasn't really gotten his money's worth on these hacks, either. His stats sit at five points and four rebounds.
Bowling Green ended up winning by one. These midweek games have seen the MAC East win by a combined 75 points in five games, and that's not counting the Zips, who hold a 14 point lead over WMU.
There have no exciting plays to speak of tonight. The closest thing was a nice dish from Quincy Diggs to McNees on the break. McNees converted the layup while being fouled.
Gaffney and I agree that one of the keys to the rest of the season will be if McNees can start making shots. I would add that McKnight (who just missed a chippy for his 1,000th point) must be a consistent 15-and-7 guy.
On the next possession, McKnight cleaned up a missed layup, and deposited it. He is the 38th player in Akron basketball history, and eighth under Keith Dambrot to reach that milestone. The PA announcer informed the crowd, which was already cheering as if they knew what was going on. It did spur a standing ovation.
These referees have had a tough game. In their defense, they are relatively new to the MAC. When fans see fresh zebras, they smell blood, just like third graders with a substitute teacher. The five noisiest moments tonight have been bursts of hatred toward the refs.
WMU applied the full-court press beginning at the 3:30 mark. And the Broncos have been successful with it. The Zips lead by 12 with 2:45 left, but this game can still turn.
Akron, too, has started pressing a little, but I think the objective is to slow the pace and make WMU be more deliberate in the backcourt.
The Zips played good defense tonight, made a great deal of their shots, and overall looked like a team that can advance in the MAC Tournament. Will they capitalize on Thursday, and move to 6-5 in the conference -- and put themselves in scoring position so to speak for a first-round bye?
Stats of note: Whitfield's 23 points and Ward's 26 were career highs. Stainbrook led both teams with seven assists. Akron shot 48.3 percent from the field; WMU was 40.4 percent, but missed all 12 attempts on 3s. The Zips had 21 assists compared to the Broncos' seven.
McNees is now in eighth place in career assists with 280. Tonight was a career high with seven.
Tonight was only the fifth Dambrot game holding a team without a 3.
Final Score - Akron 83, Western Michigan 71
"It's time. Our backs are against the wall."
On getting 1,000 points himself: "If it comes, it comes. I'll be more satisfied if I get 1,000 boards. I would like more boards than points."
"These last seven games, there are five at home."
"We want to get the bye game. That's the most important thing now. We still have a chance for a 20-win season."
On winning 20 or more: "That's a very prideful thing. The guys that came before us set up the tone for us young bucks. It's important."
"We have a lot of talent that can be exploited in the right way. Coach knows what he's doing. Guys need to believe in his system."
"In every single loss, the other guys out-tough us."
On AK-Rowdies holding the Serbian flag: "It means a lot to me. When you see your flag, representing your country and culture, it's an extra motive to go out there and play hard. It's a big deal for me."
"I thank God for another opportunity to score 1,000 points. I did it in high school and now I did it in college. It's quite an accomplishment, and I thank God for that."
On WMU: "They're going to push; they're going to shove. They're going to do whatever it takes to get boards. They're a physical team."
"We have a mindset. We have a confidence that we can beat them."
On winning 20 or more: "It's just good for the program. It's building and building on it each year. The older guys have already set it up for us. I've had 20 wins ever since I've been here."
"I appreciated it. It was nice. The crowd gave me a nice ovation. But I wanted to win the game."
"We did a good job. We played pretty well at times. More aggressive offensively. Spreading the floor has helped us -- playing Alex and Quincy at the same time."
"The things you got to do against Western is you can't give us transition baskets and you can't give us second-chance baskets. The only bad part is that we didn't handle the press well. It got kind of ugly. People running around, grabbing."
"We shot a good percentage and we had 28 baskets on 21 assists."
"We spread them out, drove them. Showed good patience and threw it in at the end of the clock."
"It's a misleading 0-for-12. But people have been making them all year on us, so that's got to even out."
"We're not that far from being a good team. We have a good mix of shooting ability, driving ability, and inside ability. We have to continue to guard and continue to improve our 3-point defense. Zeke and Bardo did a good job of clogging the middle in the first half."
On Stainbrook: "We know he's going right shoulder every time. We ran him around on defense. That puts him in a tough position. He's not the most mobile player, but he's pretty good."
"Shaka called me today. He's always trying to pick me up. He says, 'You know coach, how many teams have won 20 games four years in a row? 34 teams.' I said, 'Shaka, what's your point.' He said, 'Coach, it's hard.' It's not going to be easy every year."
"We're going to have a new players' lounge, a new weight room. It's going to be done by next year. Right, Tom? We've put our money where our mouth is to make this a good basketball program. You can't ask for anything more than that as a coach."
"We started off fine. It was almost like we hit a wall. We were a step slow the whole game. We just did not have good footspeed tonight. We faced a very, very hungry team that had its backs up against the wall. They played better than we did. They deserved the win."
On going 0-for-12 on 3s: "I thought that we had some decent looks. We just missed them tonight. Their defense pushed our offense out early in the game. Their guards did a good job of getting up into our guards. When we came off of ball screens, which is our offense, they did a pretty good job of stepping over and helping. As the game progressed, we wanted to make the extra pass."
On Marshall's defense: "Obviously, he's one of the best shot blockers in the country. What we can't do is take the ball inside but when we had blocks, we were going away from him, which makes a shot blocker better -- instead of going right at him. He definitely bothers things inside there."
On his team's weaknesses: "They're going to run ball screens on Stainbrook and they're going to take it in against Juwan."
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