Last year’s loss to Coastal Carolina left the University of Akron basketball team rankled — two players more so than others.
“I know I’ve been wanting this game since me and Tree watched them last year,” forward Nick Harney said of the season opener, which tips off at 8 p.m. today after the women’s team plays Florida Atlantic. “We felt like they still could have beat them without us, but as we all know they came up short. This is sort of the chip-on-the-shoulder game. The one we get back. I’m excited for this game.”
Last year, Harney and fellow senior Demetrius Treadwell stayed in Akron, forced to miss games for reasons that aren’t relevant to the coming season.
But the Zips, who lost the game in overtime, missed their presence. It forced coach Keith Dambrot to give significant minutes to then freshmen Reggie McAdams and Jake Kretzer.
The two acquitted themselves nicely, combining for 27 points, but it came on 9-of-23 shooting and 8-of-19 from behind the 3-point arc. As a team, the Zips made just 11-of-33 3-point attempts in that game.
That was too many outside shots but, given the absence of Treadwell and Harney, any semblance of an inside game went out the door. Former Zips center Zeke Marshall scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but that was it for interior offense.
The team took a hit in another area, Treadwell said.
“I feel like last year our team played their heart out,” Treadwell said. “They took them to overtime but they didn’t have enough depth or leadership from people that played here before.”
And just how much were Harney and Treadwell missed?
“They’ll make a big difference. Just athletically,” Dambrot said after Wednesday’s practice. “Those are our two best athletes. When you lose your two best athletes [it hurts]. Besides not having them , Alex [Abreu] was really banged up in that game. He couldn’t move.”
It’s a different story as a new season begins.
Treadwell and Harney will play. Marshall is gone, but the Zips will be looking to play a more balanced game.
Coastal Carolina is a different team, too. Gone are guards Anthony Raffa and Kierre Greenwood, who combined for 46 points for the Chanticleers in last season’s game, but the big men in an offense that will likely open with three guards, forward Michael Enanga and center El Hadji Ndieguene are more mature, Dambrot said.
“They’re going to mish-mosh us, play changing defenses, try to make it choppy,” Dambrot said. “They’re going to try to dribble-drive us and bully us inside.”
Will they be able to bully the Zips inside?
Ultimately will and desire determine that, but it’s difficult to conceive the possibility with Treadwell there along with centers Pat Forsythe and Isaiah “Big Dog” Johnson alternating minutes.
“They’re pretty strong,” Dambrot said. “Barring foul trouble, no. But we’ll see.”
Ticket sales flowing
The website that tracks several stats related to the Zips men’s team — backthezips.com — showed approximately 1,700 seats remaining for tonight’s game at about noon on Thursday. That could change quickly given the popularity and expectations associated with the team.
The athletic department is expecting 4,500 fans at Rhodes Arena for the opener. If that number holds up, it would represent the largest nonconference crowd to attend a game during Dambrot’s time as coach.
The largest nonconference crowd to date was last winter’s ESPN Bracketbuster game against North Dakota State which drew 4,474 fans.
French’s double duty
Steve French, the voice of the Zips for 25 years, will call both of today’s basketball games, beginning with the women’s game against Florida Atlantic at 5 p.m.
Bill Morgan, who normally provides play-by-play, will be covering a playoff game.
French might need some rest after the game. Within a week’s time he will have called a football game, soccer match and three basketball games.
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.