It hasn’t been easy for the University of Akron men’s basketball team all season and it’s not going to get any easier the rest of the way.
Without two pivotal members of their team, the Zips (17-8, 9-3 Mid-American Conference) rallied around one another and climbed upon forward Demetrius Treadwell’s rock-solid shoulders to defeat Northern Illinois 62-54 at Rhodes Arena on Saturday night and claim first place in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division.
Held to two points for nearly the first 10 minutes of the second half, Treadwell came up huge in the later stages of the game to lift his team.
He produced two important plays: a rebound of teammate Jake Kretzer’s missed jumper and a two-handed, throw-down dunk to put the Zips ahead by six.
“I was just trying to follow it up and I guess I followed it up with authority,” Treadwell said.
But he wasn’t finished. Treadwell put an exclamation point on his game with a layup moments later to give the Zips a 10-point lead at 3:17 left in the game, their biggest lead of the night.
It’s become a common refrain, but Treadwell led UA with 25 points and 10 rebounds, his ninth double-double in 10 games.
He leads the MAC in that category with 13 double-doubles this season.
Three UA players followed him with nine points each.
Jordan Threloff led the way for the Huskies (11-13, 5-7) with 14 points and three rebounds.
“I thought the difference in the game was Demetrius Treadwell,” NIU coach Mark Montgomery said. “[His] six offensive rebounds in the second half gave them the opportunity to get fouls or get easy baskets. We just didn’t have an answer for Treadwell.”
The Zips performed in this game the way they’re going to have to for the rest of the season — stout defensively and with as much balanced scoring as possible.
The Huskies shot 36 percent from the floor on 19-of-58 shooting for the game and didn’t make a 3-point shot the entire second half, shooting just 4-of-13 for the game for 31 percent.
“When we lost [Nick] Harney, I told the guys we were going to have to offset it by playing better defense,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said, “because we’re not going to be able to offset it offensively.”
Seven of the players Dambrot played scored, with the Zips getting 23 points off the bench. But they all followed Treadwell, who said it’s very important for him to pick the team up whenever possible.
“They always feed off of me, everything I do,” Treadwell said. “Negative, positive, they always feed off of it.”
After a loss Wednesday, every game for UA for the rest of the season took on greater significance.
“It was just an important game,” Treadwell said. “Everything gets bigger from here on out.”
What’s most important is that the Zips have first place in the conference’s East Division as they go into next week with possibly the two most crucial games of the season. Wednesday they will play at Buffalo and they get a crack at sweeping the regular season home-and-home against Ohio on Saturday at Rhodes Arena.
“We have to get ready for Buffalo first then get ready for OU. One game at a time,” Treadwell said.
And the Zips will proceed without much of a margin of error for the rest of the season, Dambrot said.
“We’ve got the toughness to be in every game,” he said, “but we’re just going to have to make plays when it matters. It’s as simple as that.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. 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.