It wasn’t the easy way to do it, but Akron Zips coach Keith Dambrot claimed career victory No. 300 against a pesky Princeton Tigers team that ran with the Zips for most of the night.
Ultimately the Zips claimed their fourth consecutive win by a score of 62-58. It probably wasn’t the way Dambrot pictured or wanted it as Princeton took the Zips virtually to the wire.
“Three hundred is great, but the next 300 are you going to be better?” Dambrot said. “I’m just thankful to get to do the thing I love. A lot of people don’t get to do that.”
The Zips came into the game averaging a 25-point margin of victory in their past three games. The Tigers rebounding — 28-22 over UA assured that they wouldn’t have that cushion with which to work.
The game came down to key moments as the Zips could never get into a rhythm as Princeton slowed the game down to their liking.
Many of the game’s eight lead changes came in the second half with both teams scratching for the win. Gut-check moments decided the game — none bigger than the one that senior center Zeke Marshall, who found himself in foul trouble for much of the second half, pulled off with 1:35 left in the game and his team clinging with a one-point lead.
With the Zips in possession of the ball and the Tigers defense holding tough, Princeton knocked the ball loose with members of both teams ending up in a quasi-scrum. The Zips got tied up, but they also had the possession arrow in their favor.
They had only one second left on the shot clock. On a designed play, Marshall, who led all scorers with 17 points, got the inbound pass, hoisted up a hook shot to give his team a 59-56 lead with 1:33 left in the game.
“In the past I’ve made hook shots from 13 or 14 feet,” Marshall said. “It was just my normal hook shot.”
Dambrot thought his big man was going to take a short jump shot.
“It surprised me a little bit, but I’m glad he did because that’s his best shot,” Dambrot said. “What he did was play the percentages and I thought it was a brilliant move on his part. It was an instinctive, brilliant move.”
It proved to be a huge left from what they had to overcome in the game as the Tigers’ offense, which wouldn’t disappear, tried to put the Zips away with dozens of small cuts to the hoop.
Using that patience and passing, they found guard Denton Koon cutting to the basket for easy layups on more than one occasion.
He led the Tigers with 16 points and five rebounds.
Zips forward Nick Harney called the Tigers very disciplined, saying they waited for UA to make mistakes so that they could take advantage of them as well as in the offensive game.
“Personally, I got back cut about three times,” Harney said. “It’s tough. They’re smart, a very smart, very crafty team. That’s why they’re so tough to beat because you can’t guard that.”
Dambrot said the team spent a lot of time working on defending that scenario. Ultimately he was satisfied with the outcome.