CLEVELAND: By now it’s cliché that games between the University of Akron men’s basketball team and Ohio University are a cliché.
However, some clichés remain relevant, including the Zips’ 83-77 win over the Bobcats in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena, which remained in question until late in the game.
Forward Quincy Diggs led the Zips with 20 points and Demetrius Treadwell added 19 points and 11 rebounds to help UA reach the tournament semifinals for the ninth consecutive year despite a Herculean effort from the Bobcats’ Nick Kellogg, who led all scorers with 25 points in a game played with grit and patience by both teams.
It helped that UA (21-11) is close to full strength for the first time in three weeks as wing Jake Kretzer returned from a concussion.
“We hit that [regular-season] streak where we weren’t very good, we lost those three games,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “We got our guys back and we kind of got our mojo back and you could see it tonight when we were on the ropes. We kept punching.”
It probably didn’t hurt the Zips that Ohio played its third game in four days.
Despite that, for much of the game the Bobcats appeared to be the ones advancing to the semifinals as they clung to a lead that grew to double digits briefly in the first half, courtesy of a UA team that couldn’t grab a rebound and couldn’t buy a free throw.
The Bobcats led 38-33 at halftime and after the Zips cut the lead to one with 10:54 left; Ohio built it back to 64-56 with 8:35 to go.
UA eventually tied it at 67-67 with 4:46 left in the game — a definite shift in momentum. Although their defense didn’t sparkle on the night — the Zips allowed the Bobcats to make 48 percent of their shots — in the closing moments of the game they clamped down.
Dambrot said the number of games the Bobcats have played recently might have taken a toll.
Bobcats coach Jim Christian said that wasn’t the case.
“I think we hit an execution wall. We just didn’t execute,” he said. “We had a couple of bad turnovers. We couldn’t get a key stop.”
Treadwell said UA’s defense kicked in.
“We buckled down on defense and we got stops,” Treadwell said. “We converted it to points on the other end. We just played with a lot of heart and passion and we really wanted to win the game.”
Two consecutive steals by point guard Carmelo Betancourt, a pest on the defensive end of the court, led to four quick UA points and gave the Zips a 71-67 lead with 2:59 to play.
“Betancourt’s really good defensively,” Dambrot said. “We had no answers for Kellogg so we stuck [Betancourt] on him and he made a couple of big plays with his hands. It really won us the game.”
Diggs said that he spoke with the point guard prior to the game.
“I room with Carmelo and I just said, ‘We’re going to need you’ and he showed it today,” Diggs said.
The defense energized the team and a steal by Diggs led to a breakaway dunk by Treadwell, putting the Zips ahead 73-67.
“I think that’s when we finally got over the hill,” Diggs said of the play. “That play right there just showed how much heart I have and [that] I hate losing and I’m glad it got converted into the dunk.”
The Zips will try for their eighth consecutive appearance in the tournament finals when they take on the Western Michigan Broncos, one of two conference teams they didn’t beat this season, in a semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Treadwell earned his third consecutive double-double in tournament play.
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.