Both the University of Akron and Ohio University entered Rhodes Arena nursing aches and pains, but only one played like it.
The Bobcats (19-8, 9-5 in Mid-American Conference) beat the Zips (17-10, 9-5) 66-50 Saturday to drop them into a tie for second place in the MAC’s East Division.
The Bobcats, playing without point guard Stevie Taylor, dominated the game from the first half, getting just enough offense of their own while the Zips’ offensive potency couldn’t even be measured.
Coach Keith Dambrot said it was one of the worst performances as far as competitiveness that he’s seen in 10 years as UA coach.
“We were jittery to start. Big crowd. Can’t put the ball in the basket. Then showed quit. It’s as simple as that,” Dambrot said. “We didn’t shoot it well enough to play very well, but we could have competed better. We didn’t even try defensively; we had some guys who didn’t even try.”
In all fairness, as young as the Zips are playing because of the loss of Nick Harney, Reggie McAdams and Jake Kretzer, it may have been a tall order to ask UA to pull out a win. That three combined for 30 points in the season’s first meeting between the teams.
And Dambrot said that he understands that younger players such as Kwan Cheatham and Isaiah Johnson will have growing pains, but offered few excuses for the lack of defensive effort.
The Bobcats’ Jon Smith led all scorers with a double-double of 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting and 12 rebounds. Guard Travis Wilkins followed him with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting. As a team, the Bobcats connected on 29-of-53 shots for 55 percent. It’s the second consecutive game that UA has given up 55 percent or better shooting from the floor.
In the meantime, the Zips shot 27 percent from the floor and 24 percent from the 3-point arc. Three Zips, Demetrius Treadwell, Quincy Diggs and Deji Ibitayo — led UA with 13 points each.
But it was who didn’t play that may have had the most impact. Kretzer and McAdams’ respective absences allowed Ohio to concentrate more on interior defense, OU coach Jim Christian said.
“For whatever reason, when they see us coming,” he said, “they don’t miss.”
The Bobcats collapsed on forward Treadwell whenever he touched the ball, a fact that frustrated him more than once, leading to a technical foul for confronting the refs at the 15:13 mark. After that moment, the Bobcats scored the next six points, stealing mojo and taking the game with it.
“Anytime you get one of those momentum-changing plays, it gave us a chance to settle down because we were going to get a chance to keep the lead where it was, keep them at bay a little bit,” Christian said. “Then get the ball back, those were two big possessions. It got us back into our rhythm a little bit.”
It allowed them to bury UA.
However, if the Zips are going to keep control of their fate, then there’s little doubt that the youngsters such as Cheatham and Isaiah Johnson are going to have to contribute. If they do not, what transpired against Ohio will happen during their last four regular-season games.
Given the fact that MAC teams continue to beat up on one another, the Zips may not be out of the running for a third consecutive regular-season title. But they’ll need a lot of help and significantly better play to improve their record and their positioning for the postseason tournament.
Despite being down a number of players, Dambrot remains confident.
“We still have enough guys to win,” he said.
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.