Road kill usually refers to animal carcasses left on Northeast Ohio roads after they’ve been struck by vehicles.
Lately, it’s how University of Akron basketball players have referred to the teams they leave defeated in their wake as they continue to roll through conference play like a rampaging SUV unable to avoid a critter in its headlights.
After many of this year’s victories away from Rhodes Arena, some of the members of the team will take to their respective Twitter accounts and leave an observation about the game with the hashtag: #roadkill.
“I just thought of it one night,” guard Brian Walsh said. “I think it’s a good demeanor to take on the road mentally, to just think that you want to get a win by any means.”
The night Walsh referred to came after a buzzer-beating victory over Bowling Green on Jan. 11, the Zips’ second Mid-American Conference game.
“It was a great win on the road, just the way it happened. It just set in and stuck,” Walsh said.
It stuck in more than one way.
The mentality of winning on the road has stayed with the Zips.
The Zips are 7-5 on the road, 6-1 in MAC games, their lone conference loss coming at Buffalo. They are the second-best road team in the league, behind Kent State by percentage points.
By no means have any of the road wins — especially the ones in the MAC — been cakewalks.
The Zips struggled mightily against Western Michigan on Wednesday, eking out a win in overtime.
“The parity in our league is probably closer than any league than I’ve ever seen, so it’s harder to win on the road,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said.
It’s especially hard for the league-leading Zips, he said.
“[We] have to play harder than they do. With us we’re getting everyone’s best shot,” he said. “When we get them at [their] home we’re going to get their very best shot.”
Most coaches in any sport will say the goal is to win every game at home and split on the road. The Zips have been better than that despite hardships, such as late-night bus rides.
“We didn’t do anything [Thursday] when we needed to practice because we got home at 3:15 a.m. [from Michigan],” Dambrot said. “We practice in the morning so we thought it was best that they sleep.”
No one on the team is looking too far ahead with road games against Oral Roberts, Ohio University and Kent State remaining on the schedule, but why have they been able to win under such circumstances?
“I think it’s just us buckling down and grunting out some of these wins,” forward Demetrius Treadwell said. “I think, collectively, we’re just finding out what it means to win games.”
Walsh credits the coaching staff’s game plans. Both are likely contributors and ultimately it could bode well for the team’s near future. For now, Dambrot remains content not to speculate about why.
“You have to have a mind-set. You can’t be too smart. Sometimes it’s better to not know where you are and just play,” he said.
When the season began, Dambrot talked about his team needing to mature. Dambrot has seen significant growth and might be raising expectations some. Dambrot said he told his team recently: “This should be a fun month for you because every game matters. Not every team gets to play in games that matter.”
UA will take on Northern Illinois (3-19, 2-8) tonight at 7:30 at Rhodes Arena. The Zips shouldn’t take the Huskies for granted. Although UA leads the all-time series 18-9, NIU has won three of the past four games. A win tonight would give the Zips their first sweep of the West Division since the 2005-06 season. ... The women’s team will play Western Michigan at 5 p.m. in the first game of today’s doubleheader.
Former Zip Romeo Travis worked out with the team Friday night at Rhodes Arena.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.