University of Akron men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot said his team wouldn’t have a problem playing an 11 a.m. game against the University of Toledo.
Well, he can’t be right every time. And on that one, Dambrot couldn’t have been more wrong. The Zips (11-6, 3-1 Mid-American Conference) could be found guilty of sleep-walking their way through arguably the biggest game of the regular season, losing 75-61 at Rhodes Arena on Saturday.
That, however, would be disingenuous and disrespectful. The Rockets (15-2, 3-1) dominated them, pure and simple.
The Zips entered the game in a simple situation: win and take a two-game lead in the Mid-American Conference against the team many predicted would give them the most trouble in the tournament at season’s end; lose and give Toledo a slight advantage when it comes to tie-breakers.
The Zips were successful in controlling the tempo, a primary goal of Dambrot’s, but gave away that advantage by being unable to keep the Rockets from winning the rebounding battle, another usual UA strength.
“They came in here and beat us at our own game. Hats off to them,” said UA forward Demetrius Treadwell, who scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “They came in here and knocked down some tough shots and really beat us on the glass, especially in the first half. We allowed too many offensive rebounds. Nine times out of 10 with the team we have if we do that we’re not going to win too many ballgames.”
The Zips uncharacteristically got drummed on the boards 42-28, including an 11-2 deficit on the offensive glass in the first half as the Rockets built a 37-28 lead.
“We knew we had to attack the offensive glass,” said Toledo forward J.D. Weatherspoon, who grabbed 14 of the Rockets’ rebounds and added 20 points. “We got a second chance on the offensive glass and that helped us out.”
Toledo scored 16 points on second-chance points.
“What they did was take the first punch to the bully, really. Then we didn’t punch back as well as we should have. At this point, they just played better than us. It’s as simple as that,” Dambrot said.
But the Zips could blame themselves for much of what happened. Early turnovers hampered them, and they committed 13 for the game. As the Rockets gained confidence, UA’s defense faltered and there continued to be a dearth of production from the point-guard position. Carmelo Betancourt and Nyles Evans scored no points at all.
Even with that, the Zips deserve credit for not quitting, especially in the case of Treadwell, who shook off a four-point first half to score 14 in the second half.
“We were down and I just wanted to do everything that I could to get back in the game,” Treadwell said.
They missed an opportunity to make a run at UT to get back in the game with about eight minutes to go. Instead, the Rockets stood their ground and in doing so produced a new and perhaps temporary new reality in the MAC. Right now, the team to beat plays about two hours away from Rhodes Arena.
The Zips have plenty of time to change that, and the realization that the teams could likely see one another down the road entered the conversation.
“I don’t think we got their best shot,” Rockets coach Tod Kowalczyk said of the Zips. “We’ll get their best shot when we see them again.”