With the intensity amped up and in front of a big crowd, the University of Akron stretched its nation-leading win streak to 17 games and remained undefeated in the Mid-American Conference with a 67-50 win over Bowling Green.
Senior center Zeke Marshall, shaking off a lackluster first half in which he only scored four points, led the Zips (21-4, 12-0 MAC) with 15 points and added nine rebounds. Junior forward Nick Harney added 13 points and six rebounds.
Richaun Holmes led the Falcons (10-15, 5-7) with 15 points, a career high, on 5-of-6 shooting.
The Zips opened the game with a spark and focus that they’ve not shown in recent games, feeding off a nearly packed Rhodes Arena. That translated into defense.
“I think when there’s 5,300 there they’re going to play and when it’s 150 at Eastern Michigan it’s a little harder,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “What I’ve hit them with is that we have to work even harder now because we have the opportunity to do some things that have never been done here.
“So we have to ratchet up, make more sacrifice, try to play better and hold ourselves to a high standard.”
That high standard and intensity showed itself defensively. The Zips held the Falcons to just 33 percent shooting from the floor and forced 15 turnovers that led to 16 of the Zips’ points.
“I think today it was more so on the defensive end,” Harney said. “We didn’t want them to score anything. That was our mindset for the start of the game. I think that helped us a lot.”
Senior guard Brian Walsh (10 points, six rebounds) agreed.
“We wanted to be the aggressor,” Walsh said. “We just wanted to contain them, making everything a tough shot.”
That defense showed in the Zips’ ability to lock down the Falcons’ two most dangerous scorers, point guard Jordan Crawford and forward A’uston Calhoun. They came into the game averaging a combined 31 points per game.
It’s offensively where the Zips showed signs of struggle. They shot 37 percent for the game, including 14 percent from behind the 3-point line.
“We just haven’t been able to quite put it together offensively, but other than probably a four-minute stretch, we were really good defensively, which allows you to be in every game,” Dambrot said. “We just have to take that ugly duckling and polish it up a little bit and become better offensively.”
The Zips who had been shooting less than 70 percent from the free-throw line, used 10 consecutive points on free throws to clinch the win.
They shot 83 percent from the foul line, with Walsh making four.
“Whatever I can do to help this team win, whether it’s making free throws or threes, I’m willing to do anything to continue this win streak. I practice them every day and I take pride in shooting,” Walsh said.
This is the seventh UA senior class that will enjoy a 70-win career. Six of those classes have come under the guidance of Keith Dambrot. … The crowd of 5,247 was the third-largest crowd of the season. With the win, the Zips guaranteed themselves a spot in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament.
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.