ATHENS: The first game of the season between the University of Akron Zips and Ohio Bobcats played out like two boxers feeling each other out.
It wasn’t particularly pretty to start, but it achieved the goal of seeing who might gain an upper hand psychologically and in the Mid-American Conference standings. The honor went to the Zips, who won it 83-80 in double overtime Sunday.
“I told them we can’t be like Muhammad Ali. We have to be like Joe Frazier. Punch. Punch. Punch,” coach Keith Dambrot said when talking about the changes in his team from last year.
After a lackluster first half by both teams, both returned to the floor with some semblance of energy. It was just a matter of which team wanted the game more.
Through all the sweat and drama, a two-point shot from Quincy Diggs in double overtime looked as if it sealed the deal. But with the Zips this year, it’s never easy.
With six seconds left in the game and the Zips clinging to that three-point lead, there was little for the Bobcats to do other than foul. They smacked point guard Nyles Evans and all he needed to do was connect on at least one free throw to theoretically turn it into a two-possession game.
He missed both.
It took some frantic defense and a couple of clinks and clanks off the rim before the Zips sealed the deal.
There’s no way the Zips would have won this one without Diggs’ effort. In the game’s final moments, Diggs took it upon himself to pull his team to victory. He scored nine of his team-high 20 points in the game’s two overtime periods, leading five Zips in double figures.
“I want the ball at the end anytime,” Diggs said. “K.D. told me he was going to put the ball in my hands at the end of the game and I needed to make a play for me or my teammates. In this case, I made it for myself and my teammates.”
He didn’t make it easy for the Bobcats.
“We had three different guys on him,” OU coach Jim Christian said. “He hurt all three of them.”
When the Zips’ Dambrot took a timeout with 9:13 left in the game after the Bobcats took their largest lead of the matchup at 49-41, it gave the impression the situation was more dire than Dambrot wanted to convey.
The Zips weren’t shooting — like most of the evening — and their offense struggled mightily and overall play looked sloppy. Overtime seemed a fitting way to solve it, much to the chagrin of the Bobcats (11-4, 1-1).
“It’s two good teams competing, it’s not going to be easy,” said Bobcats forward Maurice Ndour, who led all scorers with 25 points. “We went into overtime. We made tough plays, they made tough plays. They were tougher than us … I don’t think I was tough enough today.”
The Zips (10-5, 2-0) had a chance to win this in regulation, but Diggs’ attempt to work the ball inside met with two Bobcats collapsing on him and stealing the ball to run out the clock after a desperation shot by OU’s Nick Kellogg didn’t come close to dropping.
Without former Zips Zeke Marshall and Alex Abreu, and Bobcat D.J. Cooper, the rivalry had a different look in their first game of the season, but some things never change. Ndour had apparently told the OU media that he was looking forward to playing the Zips. What did he say after the loss?
“I can’t wait to play them again.”
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.