The University of Akron tried to shake off the rust as the Zips faced the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders on Sunday afternoon at Rhodes Arena.
With not having played in two weeks since departing Puerto Rico, some questioned how the Zips would fare against their fellow mid-major.
The results were mixed in the 82-77 overtime win as they did some things well, but struggled in other areas.
“As far as rust, I don’t think we had any. We’ve been preparing for this game for four days. I think coach just had more time to prepare for this game instead of just having two days and one day of prep, so I think that did us well,” junior point guard Alex Abreu said.
Zips coach Keith Dambrot called it a game of gladiators, a bit of an overstatement certainly but with 14 ties and 14 lead changes, he shot down the contention that his team had to shake off rust, yet confessed there’s room to grow.
“We’re not all the way there yet. I think Abreu was much better than in any game he played in this year,” he said. “I think he’s done a really good job in the last two weeks of monitoring his eating and getting his weight off. Alex Abreu is the key for our team no doubt about it.”
The numbers suggest Dambrot was right. Abreu led the Zips with 19 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Zeke Marshall followed with 14 points and five rebounds.
Raiders guard Raymond Cintron led all scorers with 22 points and three assists. Marcos Knight followed him with 21 points and six rebounds.
Freshman leads Zips to victory
The teams battled to a near draw in the first half with the Zips taking a 34-33 lead into the locker room.
The Raiders opened the second half with a 10-2 run and the Zips’ defense that had been active and impenetrable started to show cracks as the Blue Raiders began to move the ball, patiently working their offense to get easy buckets. They took a 43-36 lead at 15:45 of the second half.
That got the Zips’ attention — quickly.
They began a 10-point tear lead by forward Demetrius Treadwell and 3-pointers from senior guard Brian Walsh and Abreu. But it wouldn’t last as the game evolved into a see-saw contest in which it felt as if the team with the final possession would claim the win.
In reality, only overtime could determine the winner. And for the Zips the determining factor came in the form of freshman wingman Jake Kretzer, who scored all eight of his points in overtime. Six of those came courtesy of 3-pointers that hit nothing but net. His second, which he nailed with a minute left, virtually iced the game for the Zips.
“I was thinking I have to hit this shot. This is going to put our team over the edge and hopefully seal the victory,” Kretzer said.
Dambrot said he wasn’t sure who he should play during that crucial extra five minutes. It turns out that his choice of a freshman with six games of experience was the right one.
“I know this — he brings his construction hat. He brings his lunch pail. He brings his safety shoes,” Dambrot said of Kretzer. “He’s a tough son-of-a-gun. I felt like there was a little bit of a mismatch there where he could stretch that defense a little bit. … I just felt like he needed to play.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.