KENT: Despite being down by 10 points after the first half, shots banging off the rim and without much of an opportunity to get the ball inside, the University of Akron eked out a 71-67 win over archrival Kent State.
After several days of what they called good practice, the Zips fully expected their shooting fortunes to turn around in this rivalry game.
Yes, that worked out. Just the way the Zips planned. Well, not exactly.
The Zips shot 36 percent from the floor and found themselves in a 10-point hole at halftime. Given the way all facets of the game were working, that’s not a surprise.
“We put on an absolute clinic on how to shoot free throws, 3-pointers and be patient on offense,” coach Keith Dambrot said dryly.
Still the Zips expected to win the game.
“We shot so poorly that we felt we were fortunate to be down by 10,” he said.
There was no denying the truth in that statement as the only players showing signs of life to that point were Demetrius Treadwell (15 points, 16 rebounds) and Zeke Marshall (17 points, 11 rebounds).
The Zips’ outside shooters continued their struggles until for some untold reason that will only be known to them, shots fell when needed.
Point guard Alex Abreu faced putting together a scoreless game until Dambrot showed confidence in him and guard Brian Walsh.
“I didn’t think [Abreu] was good at all. Defensively he ran around. He tried hard, but he ran around and gave up 3s. He didn’t play defensively,” he Dambrot said. “He couldn’t make shots. Then again the guy’s been in three years of big games. When push comes to shove, he shoots the 3 then I think it’s going in. The experience of playing in all those games really paid dividends.”
The big game experience showed and, yes, the payoff came.
With KSU leading 63-60 and 2:18 left, Abreu got the ball and nailed a 3 after having gone 0-for-8 in the game.
“The scouting report was when they’re down and they need a big shot, Abreu takes it,” KSU forward Darren Goodson (14 points, four rebounds) said. “They executed and we weren’t there.”
Flashes coach Rob Senderoff wasn’t surprised.
“Alex Abreu, he makes them all when they need them. I’ve seen it many, many times … that’s why they are very, very good. They make those plays when they need to,” he said.
Given KSU’s relentless play, they certainly needed to make more plays just like that one and it came on UA’s next possession after a missed jumper by the Flashes’ Randal Holt (seven points, five rebounds). UA rebounded the ball and forward Chauncey Gilliam, who came up with 11 clutch points off the bench, found Walsh. He nailed a 3 to give the Zips a 66-63 lead with 1:20 left in the game.
“This is how stupid I am. I ran two [plays] for two guys who hadn’t made a basket all game — Alex made the one and Walsh made the other,” Dambrot said. “Sometimes you just have to ride guys that you believe in.”
While KSU was still in the game, there was little doubt that those two plays packed an emotional punch.
“I think it was more that they had two dagger 3s that hurt us,” Flashes forward Chris Evans (19 points, seven rebounds) said.
They certainly didn’t recover from them as the Zips stifled any momentum that KSU had in the game. Senderoff acknowledged that it may be tough to recover from letting this one slip away.
“Our guys were emotionally invested in this one. We played really hard,” he said. “We had not played like this at home in a while … and we played really hard and we didn’t win.”
Zeke Marshall broke the MAC blocked shots career record. He had four in the game, giving him 304 for his career. … Treadwell had his second double-double of the season. … It was the first time in 50 years the Zips won back-to-back games at Kent State.