For a while it was difficult to tell who was the University of Akron’s worst enemy at the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Wednesday night.
Was it the Eastern Michigan Eagles or themselves?
With the country’s longest winning streak on the line, a case could be made that the Zips (20-4, 11-0 Mid-American Conference), who found it difficult to hold on to the ball, created their own problems before they pulled out a 70-62 victory over the Eagles (11-13, 4-6).
With the win, the Zips ran the nation’s longest winning streak to 16.
Senior guard Brian Walsh led four Zips in double figures with 16 points, including 4-of-8 from behind the 3-point arc, and four rebounds. Junior forward Nick Harney followed him with 14 points.
Forward Glenn Bryant led the Eagles with 11 points.
Give the Eagles credit for pulling the Zips into their lair. Were it not for pure talent on UA’s part, it might have worked. Showing they were up to the task, the Zips shot better than 50 percent from the floor and held the Eagles to under 38 percent.
“If you look at the numbers, we played well,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “We just turned the ball over. We knew we could guard them because we knew they were going to play slow and rely on scoring at the end of the clock which is harder against us.”
The Eagles effectively took away UA senior center Zeke Marshall for most of the night. Marshall struggled to get the ball in the post and when he did, there were often several Eagles making it difficult for him to get off any shots.
It took what is steadily becoming the norm for the Zips in these grind-it-out MAC games — a late run to put the game away.
And they indeed saved their best for last. A 16-7 run helped them get some breathing room after the Eagles continued to peck away each time the Zips took a lead of any significance. The Zips enjoyed leads of as many as eight points but were unable to build upon them.
Walsh and Harney combined to make three consecutive 3-pointers during the final run, with Harney providing the exclamation point.
Holding a 58-51 lead with 2:51 remaining in the game, Dambrot willingly played the Eagles’ game, milking the clock and trolling for an easy shot, but they weren’t about to get one.
With the clock counting down to zero, Harney pulled up from behind the arc to hit a 3-point shot to give UA their biggest lead.
It appeared to deflate the Eagles, and the Zips remained in control for the rest of the game.
The Zips deserve credit for defensive play that held the Eagles to 37 percent shooting from the floor (19-of-51) and for overcoming their mistakes, including nine turnovers from point guard Alex Abreu.
“The thing I like is that it’s somebody different every night. Tonight Walsh carried us,” Dambrot said. “Harney played well. Before it was Tree [Demetrius Treadwell] and Alex. That’s the mark of a good team.”
But Dambrot knows they’re not complete.
“We can play better,” he said.
“We have to play better.”