If University of Akron fans want to find a reason the men’s basketball team has won 15 in a row and is 10-0 in the Mid-American Confeence, they need to look no further than the bench.
Prior to Saturday’s game against Miami, the UA reserves were outscoring their counterparts by 10 points per game and had been outscored only four times all season.
They have also shot 40.9 percent to 33.9 percent for their opponents.
“It’s been every year for us,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “We’ve had a lot of good players coming off our bench.”
That is the case again. The addition of freshmen Reggie McAdams (5.0 points, 1.2 rebounds per game) and Jake Kretzer (5.9 points, 3.3 rebounds per game) bolstered a reserve lineup that had to contend with the loss of last year’s MAC Sixth Man of the Year, Quincy Diggs, but also returned veterans Deji Ibitayo and Chauncey Gilliam.
“It’s been a big adjustment as far as getting to know your role,” McAdams said. “The upperclassmen helped me a lot. When you come in, you have to be that spark plug. When everybody is a little bit tired you have to bring that energy, just pick a team up and do what you can.”
That has been the case more often than not, primarily because Dambrot is capable of going 11 players deep into his roster to get the production he needs. A different face from the bench usually steps up. Gilliam (5.9 points per game), who was moved to the bench after Nick Harney elevated his game to starter status earlier in the season, did so in games against Kent State and Toledo. He recognizes that UA’s depth is a strength.
“It’s great to have good games,” Gilliam said. “It’s kind of hit or miss the way we play, especially for the shooters because you never know. You get your first two shots and if you’re on, of course, you’re going to be that guy who stays on [in the game].”
But even with the group’s success, they’ve had rough spots. Saturday, against Miami, UA reserves were outscored 25-12 in a 54-50 Zips’ win.
“The key for us is finding the right mixture,” Dambrot said. “We need to get a little more pop shooting the ball off that bench, which we haven’t had recently.”
And Dambrot isn’t content with leaving things that way. He’s taking advice from his protégé Shaka Smart, head coach of Virginia Commonwealth, whose team recently had a 13-game winning streak. Smart told Dambrot that he shouldn’t be comfortable and if he felt something was off, to change it.
“We’re going to toy with it a little bit,” Dambrot said. “The last couple of games we started pretty good and then we haven’t gotten much done.”
With the regular season winding down, the Zips are shooting just 65.9 percent from the free-throw line. Despite the mediocre percentage, Dambrot is not concerned, primarily because of who’s shooting the lion’s share of free throws.
Center Zeke Marshall is shooting 64.9 percent and has shot more than twice as many as his nearest teammate, junior forward Demetrius Treadwell, who is shooting just 53 percent.
“Zeke’s been off,” Dambrot said. “Tree’s been mediocre. All we can do is shoot them.”
In games through Sunday, UA is 54th in the Ken Pom RPI rankings; 49th in ESPN’s BPI rankings; 53rd on Real Time’s RPI ranking; 53rd with the NCAA; and 54 with ESPN’s RPI.
With the release of Monday’s college basketball polls, the Zips received 12 points in the AP poll and nine in the USA Today coaches poll.
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.