But for a string of poor decisions, Akron would have completed one of the most unbelievable comebacks in team history.
The young Zips faced a 47-31 deficit well into the second half, but they clawed back to force overtime, where Ohio eventually won 70-65.
Akron led 62-58 with three minutes left in overtime, but quickly squandered it. Nate Linhart had the ball stolen, then fouled Ohio's DeVaughn Washington on a fast break dunk. After his three-point play, Washington made two free throws on the next possession. Jerome Tillman's put-back on an offensive rebound gave the Bobcats a three-point lead. Humpty Hitchens heaved a desperation 3 that would have tied the game, but it was an airball.
Putting that aside for a moment, it was a real accomplishment to fight back. At the end of regulation, Akron had the ball, down two. Chris McKnight missed a free throw but his brother Brett McKnight was there to tip it in as the buzzer sounded, forcing overtime.
Jimmy Conyers scored another key basket to help force overtime. He rebounded a missed Brett McKnight free throw and put it back in. That layup brought Akron within two points with two minutes to play.
By my count, Ohio scored only three field goals in the second half. The Zips were equally impotent for the first 30 minutes of the game. Momentum swung in Akron's favor as Tillman tallied fouls.
Ohio shot 31 free throws compared to 14 for Akron. Chris McKnight led Akron with 14 points and six rebounds. Bobcats point guard Michael Allen scored 17 points, including several shots that helped Ohio build its early lead. Tillman scored only 12, eight fewer than his season average.
The Zips were slightly better than their last overtime game -- a loss at Miami. However, all it takes is a couple mistakes for an inexperienced team to lose its confidence in front of a raucous crowd.
A few weeks ago, Keith Dambrot lamented that his team was not tough enough. Certainly this win should put that fear to rest. You don't come back 16 points on the road against an experienced team without a wheelbarrow full of guts.
Akron will play before another rowdy crowd on Saturday at noon when Kent State visits Rhodes Arena. I will preview the game in the next few days.
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