Down by 20 at 9:13 of the first half, many people wouldn’t think there was any chance that the Akron Zips could make a comeback.
But after taking the Buffalo Bulls’ best blows at Rhodes Arena, the Zips turned things around to win their sixth consecutive conference game and 11th consecutive overall 68-64.
Point guard Alex Abreu led the way for the Zips with 13 points and four assists. Forward Demetrius Treadwell also tossed in 13 and grabbed seven rebounds.
Guard Jarryn Skeete paced the Bulls with 19 points, including 3-of-6 shooting from the 3-point line.
“The best way to describe that was a boxer that got smashed so hard that he staggered and staggered and was waiting for that bell to ring so he could get back to that corner,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “They had us knocked out in that first half. We just caught enough air that we recovered and came back.”
The Zips overcame a Bulls opening salvo that saw them connect on their first nine shots of the game to contribute to that monster lead.
To its credit, UA didn’t panic.
“We can’t get it all back at once; we have to chip away at it,” Treadwell said he told his teammates.
They eventually whittled the lead down to 37-31 at halftime after going on a 19-7 run to close out the first half.
They shot well and had the momentum, but they couldn’t get re-established in the second half as the Bulls jumped on them with a 14-6 run to open the quarter, running their advantage to 51-37 with 13:35 left in the game.
Moments later, the Zips began their improbable comeback as they clamped down on defense, moving away from pressuring the ball to a zone despite using that defense sparingly thus far this season.
“Gut. I coach on pure gut feeling,” Dambrot said when asked why he made the move. “I watch a lot of tape and I thought they had a lot of struggles with the zone when I saw them. Kent’s zone bothered him.”
It had its desired effect for Dambrot’s team being one of two changes to spark the eventual comeback as the Zips went on a 19-0 run to put the Bulls back on their heels. During the course of their scoring outburst, they held Buffalo without a field goal for more than six minutes.
“I think it saved the game, honestly. We couldn’t guard Buffalo for a while and they got everything they wanted,” Abreu said of the defensive switch. “It changed them up, took them out of rhythm and then we just let Zeke work with [Javon] McCrea down low.”
Abreu, who went into the locker room at halftime without a point or rebound and only one assist, woke up to help spark his team. A couple of quick steals pumped the adrenaline and assists on 3-pointers by freshman Jake Kretzer helped his team ramble to a 57-55 lead, a lead that they never lost.
Kretzer’s 3-pointers were the high point for a bench that outscored the Bulls’ reserves 20-7, providing a much-needed boost.
“Our bench helped us energy wise. I thought our first group both halves got their brains beat in,” Dambrot said. “We hung in there and survived the punches and were fortunate enough to win the game.”
This is the largest deficit a Zips team has overcome since Nov. 11, 2005, when they came back from 17-points down against Youngstown State. … The 11th consecutive win gives the Zips the second-longest win streak in the country.
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.