ATHENS: Just five minutes told the story of the University of Akron’s win over Ohio University at the Convocation Center on Wednesday night, and they came in overtime.
After the obligatory resurrection from a sleepwalking state, the winning streak, the undefeated record in the Mid-American Conference and national rankings came down to those fateful ticks and overcoming what had been an 18-point deficit.
After beating the Bobcats 88-81 in overtime, the Zips extended their winning streak to a nation’s best 19 consecutive games. They’ve won their first 13 in the MAC, their best start ever.
Their big men — center Zeke Marshall (16 points, seven rebounds, four blocks) and forward Demetrius Treadwell (21 points, eight rebounds) — battled fiercely and the Bobcats (20-8, 11-2) offered little in the way of answers for them. The two players combined for 37 points and 15 rebounds. And when UA coach Keith Dambrot needed someone to score the ball from outside, up stepped freshman Jake Kretzer, who delivered a perfect shooting night. He made 6-of-6 from the floor, including 5-of-5 from behind the 3-point line and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line, to finish the game with 19 points.
But the Zips (23-4, 13-0) had to contend with Ohio’s point guard D.J. Cooper, who made an art form of draining baskets from long range, making 5-of-10 3-pointers as part of an unbelievable performance to keep his team in the game. Cooper totaled 26 points in the game to lead all scorers.
“I thought we did a relatively good job, except for one stretch when we kept letting him go to his left hand, which was a mistake,” Dambrot said.
UA won the game on grit, toughness and timely free-throw shooting, not one of their strong suits this season. More remarkably, they achieved this without Marshall, who fouled out with 43 seconds left in the game on one of its more suspect calls.
“I felt like all five of us that were out there at the time, we all had to fill some type of role as he left the game,” Treadwell said. “Stuff like that happens all the time and we practice for those types of situations.”
Dambrot took note of the situation too.
“Without Zeke, it shows you how tough our guys are,” he said. “We have really good toughness and you could see it when the game was on the line. We made a lot of plays.”
The win gives the Zips a stranglehold on the East Division in the conference, and barring a collapse, they will likely claim their second consecutive regular-season title.
These teams expect a grudge match in the MAC Tournament, which takes place next month at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
At one point, Treadwell began a reply to a question with “when we play them in the finals it’s going to be a new game” before backtracking a moment later.
“We don’t know who we’re playing,” he said. “Y’all the reporters. [I’ll] leave it to y’all [to decide].”
OU’s Jim Christian agreed.
“Tournaments are funny things,” he said. “You have to come to play every day.”
And Dambrot knows that the tournament title won’t be handed to the Zips, saying that on this night they just outlasted the Bobcats.
“We won the mini battles,” he said, “now we have to win the big battle.”
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.