The University of Akron gutted out a tough first half against initially stubborn Western Michigan before switching things up to claim a 65-43 win, the Zips’ sixth consecutive victory overall and ninth in a row at Rhodes Arena, in their Mid-American Conference opener.
It wasn’t an exercise in beauty or glory. Both teams struggled to generate consistent offense. By the end of the first half, it appeared as if combined they just might serve as future examples of hoops futility, each shooting less than 30 percent in the half.
A little luck allowed UA to escape with a 25-19 halftime lead. The Broncos (8-6, 0-1), betting that the Zips would work the ball in the paint, packed the interior and made baskets difficult to come by.
But the second half told another story. The Zips, who have been proving their worth in the paint the past five games, turned to the outside.
Guard Brian Walsh came out hot, making UA’s first five points of the half and helping to spark a 16-4 run that allowed the Zips (10-4, 1-0 MAC) to take control of the game. In all, he contributed 10 points to that scoring streak.
Walsh said that Zips coach Keith Dambrot set up the initial play that helped UA set the tone for the rest of the game.
“We knew our shots were going to fall; we just had to stay with it, stay confident,” Walsh said. “Coach called my number the first play of the half. That’s what I do; I shoot it in. I just tried to shoot it with confidence and I got hot.”
Dambrot turned to a former protégé, Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, for some insight. Smart advised Dambrot to work with Walsh more because of his talent.
“I just had that feeling that we could ride him,” Dambrot said of Walsh. “He’s a very, very good shooter. We just have to tell him how good he is. Then [Nick] Harney made a couple. Then that stuff gets contagious.”
Not to be outdone, Harney, who tossed in 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting to lead all scorers, added to the effort by connecting on a 3-pointer.
The Zips did well to shake off their doldrums, considering foul trouble forced senior center Zeke Marshall to the bench for much of the second half. Marshall’s backup, freshman Pat Forsythe, was pressed into playing extended minutes.
If Wednesday is an example of what Dambrot will get from Forsythe, a Brunswick native, the future at that position looks bright.
“Coach told me just to step up and stuff, play hard and physical and rebound like I’m supposed to do,” Forsythe said.
He played aggressively and made up for Marshall’s absence, nearly notching his first career double-double with a 12-point, eight-rebound night.
His production didn’t surprise Broncos coach Steve Hawkins.
“I think Forsythe, offensively, he may be more of a threat than Marshall,” he said. “He may not have the total overall effect on the game that Zeke does, but offensively he’s a very talented player.”
Dambrot said that playing against one another has allowed Marshall and Forsythe to develop, and that showed in Wednesday’s game.
“The biggest thing that Pat does is offset that loss of Quincy Diggs,” he said. “We may not have that driving ability, but we’ve got that other big guy who can score on the block and rebound the ball.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.