CLEVELAND: After the coaching job he put together in Friday’s Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal, some might want to consider coach Keith Dambrot a wizard as the University of Akron defeated Kent State 62-59.
The win sends the Zips (25-6) to the MAC title game for the seventh consecutive season.
Missing suspended starting point guard Alex Abreu for the second consecutive game against the Golden Flashes (20-13), Dambrot reworked the point-guard position, allowing it to play to his team’s strengths — an inside game that delivered at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I’ve never seen anything like [what] our guys did. I thought we were emotionally ruptured last week,” Dambrot said.
Although freshman Carmelo Betancourt started, several players made appearances at the point with junior Nick Harney getting the lion’s share of the minutes and playing well enough with 11 points, four assists and just three turnovers.
Senior center Zeke Marshall scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked seven shots. Teammate Demetrius Treadwell followed with his own double-double of 14 points, 12 rebounds and added four assists, three steals and a block.
Kent State’s Randal Holt led all scorers with 19 points and added five assists.
The lead changed eight times, most of the switches in the second half, as each team at one point or another looked as if it was going to break it open.
There’s no such thing in an Akron-Kent State game.
The Zips went into the locker room with a 32-29 lead, but the momentum had shifted to Kent State after a posterizing dunk by the Flashes’ Chris Evans on Marshall.
“It was a huge mental shift when he did that,” Marshall said. “When it happened, it happened. Granted, they were cheering and their crowd was cheering. At the end, I told my team we’ll see who wins because that’s what’s more important.”
Ultimately, Marshall said he didn’t think the play had an effect on his game. Evans and Kent State coach Rob Senderoff agreed.
“I don’t think that dunk had anything to do with anything,” Senderoff said. “I think Zeke played very well in the second half and they made an effort to go to him.”
Marshall scored the first seven points of the half, helping the Zips build the lead to as many as eight points.
Marshall had 14 second-half points, but the lead didn’t last.
The score was tied 54-54 with 4:33 to go and both teams turned up the intensity.
In the end, the Zips can thank standout defensive play — especially the efforts of Treadwell, who made his presence felt on two consecutive plays — for their ability to outlast the Flashes.
With the Golden Flashes ahead 57-56, Treadwell fought through several KSU defenders for a layup and a one-point lead. Moments later he completed a steal at half court — remarkable for the tenacity it took to complete the play.
“I felt I couldn’t let Chris Evans get the ball because I know he was going to try to create something, so I just jumped the pass and stole the ball,” Treadwell said.
It proved a key moment that helped the Zips grind out the victory.
“You can’t teach what he has,” Dambrot said. “Either you have it or you don’t have it. He’s shown for a guy who hasn’t played very much basketball that he has a lot of winning attributes.”
The Zips will face Ohio University, a team they swept in the regular season, in the title game tonight after the Bobcats defeated Western Michigan.
In that game, the Zips’ point guard situation will be put to the test by MAC Player of the Year D.J. Cooper. The Zips do not have a lot of time to prepare.
“You don’t want to complicate,” Dambrot said. “You want to try to simplify things for them so they can just play. It’s a good lineup, we’ve just got to make sure we throw it to the right team.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.