The University of Akron overcame a glacial-like start against Ball State on Wednesday night at Rhodes Arena to win its eighth consecutive game and open the Mid-American Conference season 3-0.
The Zips had to feel lucky to escape with the 71-64 victory.
“We didn’t have good juice,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “We didn’t have any emotion. … I thought the last couple of days our energy level was crappy, and we paid the price for it.”
That might be an understatement. The Zips (12-4, 3-0) were their own worst enemies as they played without any semblance of energy in addition to allowing 6-foot-9 forward Majok Majok to torch them for a game-high 26 points and grab 13 rebounds.
Junior forward Nick Harney led the Zips with 15 points, followed by center Zeke Marshall with 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks for his night’s work.
The Cardinals took advantage of a disinterested Zips team that opened the game connecting on just one of its first six shots.
Although it improved, no one will brag about 41 percent shooting for the game. Dambrot blamed the Zips’ slow start on the fact that they couldn’t make shots.
The Zips could thank a little luck and wayward free-throw shooting for helping to win the game. Majok was dominating, but he wasn’t perfect. He missed two crucial free throws late in the game.
The Zips were clinging to a four-point lead with 4:42 left in the game after a Majok layup. After a turnover by UA point guard Alex Abreu on the subsequent possession, Marshall blocked a layup by Ball State’s Matt Kaminiecki. On the next sequence, a foul by Harney put Majok at the line. Both free-throw attempts bounced off the rim, the second into Marshall’s hands who found Harney for a layup and a 61-55 lead with 3:58 remaining.
The soft cushion didn’t last long as Majok brought his team to within four once again, before the Zips scored five consecutive points, the last three on an Abreu 3-pointer.
“It’s been translating from the past couple of days in practice,” point guard Abreu said of the team’s play. “We haven’t brought it every day like we’ve done for the past two weeks. Our energy wasn’t top level and we kind of grinded through this game. We pulled it off, but we didn’t play our best basketball.”
The Cardinals outscored the Zips 32-30 in the paint, a telling sign of something being amiss. That is usually a strength for UA.
It’s a situation that they will have to shake themselves free of as they face rival Kent State at the MAC Center on Saturday.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem having energy on Saturday,” Abreu said. “It’s the other games I really think are the concern.”
With his three blocks, Marshall moved into second place on the MAC’s all-time blocked shot list with 300. Two more will give him the conference record.