The key for the University of Akron tonight at Rhodes Arena is to contain Ball State’s outside shooters.
The Cardinals’ talented guards, junior Jesse Berry (13.3 points per game) and senior Jauwan Scaife (11.3), are experienced and rank in the top 15 in the 3-pointers and scoring in the Mid-American Conference.
“If Jesse Berry and Jauwan Scaife shoot the ball then they have a chance,” coach Keith Dambrot said of the Cardinals (7-7, 1-1). “They can beat anyone in the league when they can shoot the ball. When they don’t, they struggle.”
Witness their 61-47 loss to Kent State last Saturday. Combined, Berry and Scaife made just 5-of-27 shots, wasting solid efforts from their teammates.
Ball State 6-foot-9 forward Majok Majok presents another challenge. He leads the conference on the boards, averaging 10.3 rebounds per game and likely will keep the Zips inside players busy for much of the game.
Zips small forward Chauncey Gilliam participated in a light practice with his teammates Tuesday morning.
He underwent minor left knee surgery Jan. 4 and is ready to go.
“We’re not sure how ready he is,” Dambrot said.
Still, his return presents Dambrot with a dilemma. Who starts? In Gilliam’s absence, junior Nick Harney has filled his spot in the starting lineup. And Harney has blossomed.
In the past four games, Harney is averaging 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. And the Zips (11-4, 2-0) are on a seven-game winning streak. Without a doubt, it’s a good problem for Dambrot to have.
“I haven’t decided,” Dambrot said when asked who would start tonight. “It’s hard to take Harney out of the starting lineup though; not with what he’s done. It wouldn’t be fair to him.”
It’s a tightrope he’ll have to walk. Harney has scored and he has stepped up his defense as well, Dambrot said.
“You just play the best guys. That’s what you do. That’s what I’ve always done,” he said.
Polls are open
CollegeInsider.com released its latest poll of the top mid-major hoops programs Monday and the Zips came in at No. 13. They were the highest-ranked MAC school. Dambrot said it’s something he keeps abreast of, but because he has a vote in the USA Today Coaches Poll, he tends to pay more attention to that.
“I wouldn’t say that I look at it every week,” he said. “It’s like everything else; you look at it to see who you’ve played. I know we’ve been on it almost every year to some extent. The biggest thing for us is the big poll. We have to win. We have to make sure we’re doing the right thing and getting better.”
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.