With junior point guard Alex Abreu’s legal troubles leaving a rather large hole in the University of Akron lineup, coach Keith Dambrot was forced to use his imagination to make up for his absence.
Dambrot turned to backup point guard Carmelo Betancourt (five points, four assists) as the obvious successor and the freshman from Puerto Rico got off to a rocky start in the Zips’ 68-64 loss to rival Kent State on Friday night at Rhodes Arena.
“I would say that the first three minutes were so fast that I couldn’t even think that much,” Betancourt said. “After that it slowed down. I was able to pass the ball better and just relax and play better.”
He eventually settled into the role and, before leaving the game with cramps, showed that he could manage the team.
“A steal that I had, it helped me out because I know I did something good on defense,” Betancourt, a true freshman, said. “The three ball helped me out. It calmed me down and gave me confidence.”
Still, it was telling what Abreu’s absence meant to the team.
“The difference is Abreu is such a great shooter that you can’t sit in our big people’s laps and that’s really what they did. It made it much more difficult for Zeke [Marshall] and Tree [Demetrius Treadwell],” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “Abreu is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league and also can create for other people.”
Betancourt gave the Zips reason to be optimistic as they head to the MAC Tournament next week in Cleveland having lost two of their past three, but Dambrot will have to sort out the backup situation. Sophomore Deji Ibitayo proved ineffective in the role and Dambrot went to senior guard Brian Walsh and, eventually, freshman Reggie McAdams to fill the role. In all, four guys played the point for the Zips Friday night.
“Obviously we have to move on. [Abreu is] not going to be part of our team anymore and that’s unfortunate. We just need other guys to step up,” Walsh said.
Walsh said that he played some at the position when he first arrived at UA from Xavier and the 6-foot-7 McAdams played the position in high school.
Walsh said he won’t have any problem doing the same in the MAC Tournament. “I’ll be ready next week,” he said.
The reality for Dambrot: his effort to salvage the fairy-tale season that very quickly evolved into a hoops horror movie is limited by Abreu’s arrest this past Thursday on two felony drug-related charges.
“I have to play somebody behind Betancourt,” Dambrot said. “Or if I don’t like Betancourt, I have to play somebody. We just have to beat somebody’s butts on the boards. That’s what we did in the second half.”
The reality is they have time. UA’s semifinal game isn’t until next Friday in the MAC Tournament.
“We have no chance without the double-bye,” Dambrot said.
But the psychological aspect of all of this is something else. They could count on Abreu to deliver big shots in crucial situations. That is gone and it showed in the first half against Kent State.
“You can’t lose a guy like that and have it not affect you in one day. We had very little prep time to offset that loss,” Dambrot said.
Right now the Zips are getting one of the biggest gut checks of the college basketball season.
“We just have to figure it out and see what’s best for us,” Dambrot said. “It’s hard because we don’t have a lot of options right now.”
At least they have more than a day.
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.