By the time the University of Akron amassed at 22-point lead in the second half Saturday afternoon against the Ball State Cardinals at Rhodes Arena, it was a foregone conclusion that the game was over.
Looks proved deceiving.
The Akron Zips (7-5, 1-0) beat Ball State (5-7, 0-1) 87-78 behind a double-double from former Hoban High standout forward Rachel Tecca, who scored 20 points and added 11 rebounds, 18 points from forward Hanna Luburgh and a season-high 14 points from guard Anita Brown. In all, five UA players scored in double figures. In the end, UA coach Jodi Kest pronounced herself happy with the outcome.
“When we needed shots, we got shots. When we needed stops we got stops. When we needed free throws we got free throws. It was a great start for us [in the conference],” she said.
That, however, doesn’t mean it was easy as the Zips allowed significant leads to slip away, the most crucial coming in the game’s latter stages.
With 9:03 left play and the Zips seemingly in control with a 76-54 lead, the Cardinals turned to their press.
“We turned the ball over like we’ve never seen the press before — same in the second half,” Kest said. “ We got up by 20 and made some really serious mistakes and we’re fortunate we can learn from winning. We just have to do a better job in practice.
“I still think it has to do with habits. What you do in practice you do in games. We do some really good things in practice and that carries over to games and we do some things poorly.
‘‘One of the things we do poorly in practice is taking care of the ball and making bad decisions like it’s no big deal.”
Cardinals guard Brittany Carter, who led Ball State with 19 points, led her team back on several fronts.
Beginning with two free throws, a steal, an assist and capping things off with a 3-point shot, by the end of it, the Zips’ once-fat 22-point lead had been trimmed to 78-69 with 5:18 left.
That might have bothered most teams, but the Zips survived behind Tecca, who scored six of her team’s final points, and some gritty team defense and clutch rebounding, a category UA dominated 39-26 for the game.
UA led the Cardinals from the 15:38 mark in the first half and built a lead with offensive rebounding and defense.
The Zips let the Cardinals back into the game at the end of the first half.
Leading 50-31, UA wilted under pressure by the Cardinals and committed three consecutive turnovers to assist Ball State’s 8-0 run.
Until those momentary lapses of discipline, the Zips played in an unstoppable fashion. They built another 22-point lead in the second half only to watch as the Cardinals made another run.
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.