Dealing with adversity is nothing new this season for the University of Akron men’s basketball team.
Zips coach Keith Dambrot and his staff have been forced to juggle the lineup several times due to inexperienced players and a few off the court problems.
UA’s interesting season continued on Sunday in Huntington, West Virginia when a scheduled 4 p.m. tip-off with Marshall turned into a 5 p.m. tip-off after issues with a rim on the one basket at Cam Henderson Center.
The delay didn’t seem to the bother the Zips though, who earned a 67-51 victory over the Thundering Herd before a crowd of 6,063 on New Year’s Day.
“I thought it loosened us up a little bit shooting some half-court shots with Marshall guys and having fun during the delay,” Dambrot said. “There was a big crowd and we just went out and played.”
Senior forward Nikola Cvetinovic led the Zips (8-6) past the Herd (9-4) with 14 points, five rebounds and two assists.
“It was a good challenge to come into this environment down here,” Cvetinovic said. “They always have a great crowd. It is New Year's Day and everyone is excited to play.
“We are just clicking right now. We played well against VCU, but we came up a little short [Thursday]. We cleaned it up a little bit defensively and made a few other adjustments. We played as a team and had five guys in double digits scoring. We also passed the ball well and rebounded well too.”
Dambrot said Zips players and coaches noticed the one basket was about an inch and a half higher than the standard 10-feet prior to the game. The referees were made aware of the issue, and a second rim was put on the basket. The second rim broke and a third rim was attached.
After warm-ups the Marshall public address announcer said: “Are you ready for basketball?” to the assembled crowd.
UA was, opening the game with an 8-0 scoring run in the first three minutes with four points coming from junior Zeke Marshall and two points each from junior Chauncey Gilliam and sophomore Brian Walsh.
Marshall, who is 7-2 at home, recovered from the slow start and drew even by halftime at 27-27.
The Zips trailed 30-29 with 18:52 remaining in the game, but put together a 12-2 run to lead 41-32 with 14:51 to go. Marshall had six points during the surge and Gilliam and junior Quincy Diggs both made 3-pointers.
UA never trailed again, with sophomores Alex Abreu, Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney and senior Brett McClanahan helping the Zips build a double-digit lead.
Consecutive dunks by Treadwell and Harney gave the Zips a 62-44 advantage with 4:44 to go.
“They are a team that really crashes the boards hard, and that allowed us to run and get out on fast breaks,” Dambrot said. “We were able to rebound the ball and we played a few more guys then they did, which helped us.”
Gilliam finished with 12 points and four assists. Marshall, Treadwell and Abreu scored 10 points apiece. Treadwell grabbed nine rebounds and Abreu had six assists.
“I think we are finally starting to have the whole team on the court,” Abreu said. “We have had a few problems, but our team is maturing and coming together. January is going to be a tough month because we have only two home games.”
Seniors Shaquille Johnson and Damier Pitts paced Marshall with 11 points each, and sophomore DeAndre Kane scored 10 points. Herd junior Dennis Tinnon entered averaging a double-double, but the Zips limited him to no points and eight rebounds.
UA forced 14 turnovers and committed just eight. The Zips also held an advantage in field goal percentage (45.9-37.9) and assists (16-7).
“This is a good win for everybody,” Gilliam said. “We started off the season with a nice win at Mississippi State and had some other wins, but we fell into a little bit of a slump at times. It’s nice to get this win heading into the MAC schedule.”
UA starts its MAC schedule at Miami (Ohio) on Saturday and at Bowling Green on Jan. 11.
“We have got to continue to get better in practice,” Dambrot said. “That is what it comes down to. We have had our share of adversity, and we have dealt with it pretty well.”
UA’s only home games in January are against Ohio on Jan. 14 and Kent State on Jan. 21.
“Every single game in the East this year in the MAC is going to be a big game,” Cvetinovic said. “All of those teams are really good. They are going to challenge us mentally and physically.”