There would be no heartbreak at James A. Rhodes Arena on Sunday afternoon for the Akron Zips, unlike last year when they traveled north to the Wolstein Center and dropped a close one to the Cleveland State Vikings.
UA came out with a smothering defense, an offense focused on interior scoring with senior Zeke Marshall and junior forward Demetrius Treadwell, and blew past the Vikings for a 87-57 win.
“I thought it was the second time this year we played the way we really want to play,” coach Keith Dambrot said.
Big men Marshall and Treadwell combined for 33 points and 12 rebounds to set the tone early. Forward Nick Harney led all scorers and five Zips in double figures with 19 points off the bench. In all, the Zips’ frontcourt players accounted for 56 points.
“I think we’ve got one of the best front courts in the country,” said Treadwell, who grew up in suburban Cleveland. “It’s just another game to me. … It just shows my hard work is paying off.”
The Zips took charge of the game early. They patiently worked the ball into the paint to their big men. While Marshall and Treadwell did their jobs, so did their backups, freshman center Pat Forsythe and junior forward Harney.
Dambrot said that he knew that CSU would try to play physically, and he decided to take it to them inside.
“We’ve got very good big people. [They] continue to get better,” he said. “That put them in a big bind because if you cover the inside, then you leave the outside. That was very important. Our game plan was to go down and in.”
Vikings coach Gary Waters wasn’t surprised that the Zips dominated inside.
“We knew when we started the year it could be a limitation,” he said. “Then to lose your best post player, leading scorer and rebounder, that makes it harder. But you can’t sit and make excuses, you have to get these guys ready to play.”
Overall the Zips outscored the Vikings 42-12 in the paint as the baskets came easily in transition. Their defense proved to be as potent as their offense. It’s definitely a hint of what could be should Dambrot get this kind of consistent play from those two spots.
“No, yes, I do expect that kind of domination,” Marshall said. “Now more than ever we should dominate the paint. That should be one of our strong suits because of how big we are.”
But as dominant as the big men were, the Zips owe much to easy baskets generated by the pressing, trapping defense that they played for much of the game. More often than not, it looked as if it confused and frustrated CSU.
“I’m sure it surprised Cleveland State that we came at them with trapping pressure,” Dambrot said, “because we haven’t really done that much.”
It’s a system that the Zips practiced leading up to the season’s start but used sparingly, primarily because point guard Alex Abreu, the team’s fulcrum, needed to work himself into shape for it, Dambrot said.
“He’s not playing at the level he needs to play at for us to beat the big boys,” he said. “But you can see him getting better every day.”
The win ended CSU’s two-game winning streak over the Zips, but more importantly it could be a springboard to something better, the players said.
“The [best] is yet to come,” Treadwell said. “We’re just going to keep progressing in practice and you’ll see the result soon.”
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.