The University of Akron used ferocious defense along with efficient offense to extend its nation-leading winning streak to 18 games, beating North Dakota State 68-53 in ESPN’s opening BracketBusters game of the weekend.
Another sold-out Rhodes Arena crowd, along with a national-television audience, watched Zeke Marshall lead the Zips (22-4) with 14 points, eight rebounds and add five blocks. Demetrius Treadwell notched his sixth double-double of the season with 11 points and 15 rebounds, and Nick Harney tossed in 13 points and added five rebounds for UA.
Despite those numbers, the Zips won with defense.
Playing a significant amount of pressure defense, the Zips created 13 turnovers and scored 12 points off them.
They outrebounded the Bison 43-36 and allowed North Dakota State to connect on just 21 percent from behind the 3-point line. At one point, UA held North Dakota State without a basket for almost a 10-minute stretch.
The game didn’t start off that easily.
For a while, the Zips appeared as if they were going to blow the Bison off the court, only to have them rumble back. The Zips eventually began a 16-3 run that was broken up by halftime to mount a 20-point lead, but it took a controversial call to ignite them.
With 4:28 left in the first half and the Zips leading 26-21, Marshall stole the ball near half court and raced to the hoop, delivering a thunderous dunk and holding the rim briefly.
He was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
“I’ve been in situations like that before and I did what I know would make me safe,” Marshall said. “If I had let go, it would have been a nasty fall. I had it happen before and I wasn’t taking any chances.”
The call launched the Zips, who played in front of a home crowd of 4,474. On the next play, backup point guard Carmelo Betancourt stole the ball and found a rampaging Treadwell, who slammed it home for a 30-23 lead. The Zips went on to score the final seven points of the half.
But the call and others affected Marshall in another way.
“I was just upset that the refs weren’t calling some of the stuff that big [Marshall Bjorklund] was doing,” Marshall said. “Honestly, I just started losing myself and I was in that zone.”
That manifested itself in Marshall holding Bjorklund, a center who normally averages more than 11 points, to just two in the game.
“There hasn’t been a team that could shut him down,” Bison coach Saul Phillips said, “and Zeke did it. I knew Zeke would give us problems, but I didn’t expect a 1-of-6 burger from Marshall.”
Zips coach Keith Dambrot offered a similar assessment of Marshall.
“I thought he dominated the game, really,” he said. “That team is very inside-oriented, playing through their big kid and they just really couldn’t. Zeke just took them one-on-one.”
Despite the Zips building a 20-point lead, there were a few dramatic moments during the game’s waning moments as the Bison went on a run.
“When you have somebody down by 20, you can’t let them get down by six, not in your building,” Dambrot said. “Sometimes we’re a bull in a china shop, but we’re good enough to win.”
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.