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The win over Mississippi State might have been the most positive press the program has ever received. Not because of the significance of the win. Rather, it was because of the timing of the nationally televised game.
I've been told the coaches received hundreds of congratulatory texts and e-mails, even more than from winning the conference. It was the only game on TV, unlike Championship Week, when the MAC is one of numerous conferences playing significant games. Bottom line: the basketball world is now aware that Akron might have a team worth watching.
The team received its MAC Championship rings before the game began. Of the players, Zeke Marshall got the largest ovation, perhaps because it was his block that sealed the championship.
Tonight's game is part of the 2K Sports Classic, which began at Mississippi State and continues next weekend at Valparaiso.
Akron's starters: Alex Abreu, Brett McClanahan, Nik Cvetinovic, Quincy Diggs and Marshall.
Hiram's starters include Stow High product sophomore guard Aaron Stefanov. He hit the Terriers' first bucket, a 3-pointer.
The attendance is phenomenal, considering this isn't even an Division I opponent. This would be a good turnout for a MAC game.
From the early looks, Cvetinovic and Marshall should be able to get any rebound they want. Hiram's tallest player is 6-foot-5. They have two players who are 6-7, but neither played much last season.
The first subs of Akron's bench were Brian Walsh, Chauncey Gilliam, Nick Harney and Josh Egner.
Walsh started a fast break with a steal. He lobbed it over the defense to Gilliam, who floated an alley-oop that Cvetinovic converted. That's an exciting brand of basketball, and Akron now has the athletes to do it.
Demetrius Treadwell was the next guy off Keith Dambrot's bench. He slashed to the rim and converted while being fouled for his first points as a Zip.
It didn't take long for Diggs' jersey to come untucked.
Treadwell ripped the ball from a guard and flipped it to Cvetinovic in transition for a one-handed slam. McClanahan splashed a 3 on the next trip, and this has become an 18-point lead awfully quick. It might be "Joke Time" for Hiram (see post below).
Diggs is having his right calf worked on, on the sideline. It doesn't appear that serious. Maybe a cramp.
Even the AK-Rowdies showed up tonight. Both of their seating areas are mostly full.
After watching two games of Harney, which is admittedly a limited sample, I have two conclusions: 1) He can straight up fly; I'm referring to speed and leaping ability. 2) He plays the ole' defense. Dambrot won't allow the latter to stand.
Stefanov has been firing away. He has 11 points on eight field goal attempts. We still have 5:55 left in the first half.
As Hiram has begun to run a smoother offense, Dambrot is getting very agitated. He slammed the clipboard to the floor during this timeout. I guess he has to rely on that to make noise, because his voice is shot.
Hiram pulled to within 15 thanks to solid shooting and Akron's miscues on offense.
Halftime - Akron 57, Hiram 35
Two of the AK-Rowdies are wearing shirts that read: "GET ZIP FACED." This, of course, is a play on another Saturday evening tradition for college students.
Notable halftime stats: FG%: Akron, 57.5; Hiram, 37.5. Stefanov leads both teams with 14 points. Cvetinovic has 12. Akron is outrebounding the Terriers, 27 to 10, and Cvetinovic has six of them. Abreu has four assists. Each team has six turnovers. The Zips have made 7-of-10 3-point attempts.
While there is a lull in the action, I want to thank everyone in Stow who got out to vote for me on Tuesday. I won by a margin of 1,506 votes in the six-person race for three seats on Stow's at-large council. I'm very thankful for the support, and I'm working my hardest to see that the taxpayer's money is spent efficiently.
Gilliam was involved with a multi-player collision in the first half. I was told Gilliam got a sizable cut on his eyebrow. He returned from the locker room with a butterfly bandage, possibly with stitches underneath.
Hiram left the locker room with a mission to redouble its 3-point attempting. Stefanov has nailed two more. The team has jacked 20, of which Stefanov has hoisted 11.
The soon-to-be-retired Tom Gaffney made a good point. Dambrot needs to get the starters off the floor. They are not playing good defense. Their offense is a bit sloppy. It's not a good way to follow up after an all-cylinders victory over an SEC team. C.J. Oldham has entered the game, perhaps as an indication that Gaffney will get his way.
Treadwell is a big dude. Scratch that -- a big intimidating dude. He nearly leapfrogged a Terrier to convert an alley-oop pass that was too high.
Coming out of a timeout, the Zips have really squeezed down on defense. The pickup in intensity is good to see. These games against lesser competition are good to get in a rhythm, but you don't want to become accustomed to playing with a 20-point lead, where each possession really isn't all that important.
Despite the big lead, Dambrot is really letting an official have it, regarding an offensive foul call against Akron.
A Terrier player just went soaring, back first, into the video board attached to the scorer's table. That screen is resilient. Not even a hitch in the video output.
The temptation in games like these is to pick apart the winning team, but I'll add some compliments. First, the Zips are getting any and all rebounds available. Even the guards are outpositioning their opponents. Second, the Zips are taking great care of the basketball. Where they have failed on offense has been shot selection and missed chip shots. Third, the new guys fit in really well. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that they were practicing with the team last year.
However, and you knew this was coming, the newer Zips are reluctant to shuffle their feet on defense.
Upon learning the shot clock was at 3, Abreu hoisted a 25-footer, which hit only the net -- in a good way. The Zips now lead by 30 with 5 minutes to play.
Akron will play games on Friday and Saturday in Valparaiso, Ind. against Valparaiso and Duquesne, respectively. The following Saturday, the Zips play Detroit at home.
Michael Green is in the game for his first appearance as a Zip. He got the ball in the post, pivoting about five times. Graciously, the refs called a foul before the crowd got dizzy. Oldham, Kyle Peterson, Harney and Treadwell are also on the floor to end the game.
Official attendance was 3,292. It was dollar-dog night, plus many people walked over after the football game. Beating Mississippi State might have added to fan interest.
FINAL SCORE - Akron 95, Hiram 65
Notable final stats: FG%: Akron, 49.3%, Hiram, 40.4%. Stefanov lead scoring with 20. Abreu scored 15. ___ Zips tied with a game-high six rebounds: Treadwell, Abreu, Cvetinovic, Diggs and Egner. Abreu added six assists. Akron made 12-of-24 3-pointers. Hiram finished 10-of-24. Akron committed only nine turnovers (Hiram, 15). The Zips outrebounded Hiram 47 to 31.
KEITH DAMBROT QUOTES:
I was really impressed with Hiram honestly. I thought with a bunch of new guys, they would be a little timid. They played well. The guy from Stow played particularly well. They're unorthodox. It's hard for big guys to chase those little guys. We had a hard time guarding them. Luckily, we played good offense in the first half. Then we made a few defensive adjustments that helped us.
It was a hard travel. We didn't get home until 5 o'clock on Thursday. It's hard when you play an SEC team that's pretty good. We have to teach our guys that any team can bite us. We've been a good defensive 3-point team, but not tonight.
I thought we tried hard. I thought we were a little intellectually challenged. I'm trying to learn more about our team. We have the other kid who we're trying to put in the mix (Adedeji Ibitayo). These next six games are going to be hard. If we can come out of this stretch good, we have a chance to be a pretty good team.
We've been erratic shooting the ball all year. We've lost McNees, Roberts, and Brett McKnight, and they are all good shooters.
The second half, I thought we played better (defensively). We had to do some weird things tonight. We had to switch every ball screen, every handoff, because they spread you out so much.
We have to figure out ways to get (Harney) in the game more. I think Harney is a little ahead of Rome and Wood when they were freshmen. Treadwell, too. I like Treadwell and Egner. We have a lot of big people. If you just let (Harney) play instinctively, he's really good. Guys like him, you just want him to play.
When we were really good here, it was clear-cut who our seven guys are.