The University of Akron and Ohio University men’s basketball teams might want to keep gurneys nearby during their clash at 6 tonight at Rhodes Arena.
Both teams are ailing and the game could end up being played for a share of the lead in the Mid-American Conference East Division.
Two key players for the Bobcats (15-8, 8-5) — guards Stevie Taylor (leg) and T.J. Hall (hamstring) — could be limited for the game.
However, they will have nothing on the Zips (17-9, 9-4), who are down three players, leaving an eight-man rotation.
“If you analyze it like this, we’ve lost our third-, fourth- and fifth-leading scorers, and if you really want to know from last year, we’ve lost seven of our best nine guys,” Zips coach Keith Dambrot said after practice Friday.
With nine players Wednesday, UA was short-handed and forced to start freshmen Kwan Cheatham and Isaiah “Big Dog” Johnson against Buffalo in a loss.
It could have been called a double loss because wingman Jake Kretzer went out after taking a vicious elbow to the face that required four stitches in his mouth and left him with a concussion.
With Reggie McAdams out with mononucleosis, the Zips have lost plenty of firepower from the outside. Logic dictates that the freshmen would find themselves under more pressure.
Not so fast.
“I wouldn’t say [it’s] added pressure,” said Johnson, a 6-foot-10 center. “I just know that I have to perform and get stuff done. I know that with us depleted in numbers, everyone has to step up and play their parts.”
Cheatham, a 6-8 forward, offered a similar perspective.
“It’s kind of some pressure, but it’s something I’m going to have to overcome because we’re going to be three players short, so I just have to move on, forget all my mistakes and move on to the next play,” he said.
Until the return of McAdams, Kretzer and forward Nick Harney, who was suspended last week, the Zips will count on depth, a strength of their team.
Still Dambrot expressed optimism, especially after a terrific comeback effort against Buffalo in which the Zips cut a 14-point lead to two in the game’s late stages.
“We’re playing with some young guys,” he said. “We’re one of the few teams in the league that can withstand it. We can still win this thing. I view it much as the same as when we went into the MAC Tournament last year.”
In that regard, they had lost point guard Alex Abreu and lost a close game to Kent State to close out the season, yet they captured the tournament trophy.
“You have to really not think about it,” Johnson said of the team’s situation. “You just have to go out there and play how you usually play and go harder than you usually would simply for the fact that we don’t have as many guys.”
Cheatham, who has been putting in time on his own to work on his shot, agreed.
“It just makes everyone crunch down,” he said. “Everyone has to give more. Put in more. Put in more. Put in more.”
Depending on Treadwell
Zips forward Demetrius Treadwell produced another 20-plus point effort Wednesday, his second consecutive game scoring that much.
His minutes have increased, and given the current situation with the Zips, they will have to ride his play to succeed.
Dambrot knows this, so he is trying to find ways to give Treadwell a prolonged breather.
“I took the one timeout at 4:22 because I thought he was tired,” Dambrot said. “I had them, that’s why I used them. I figured if I got the one at 4:22. I had one [media timeout] coming after that so I could freshen him up good for the end.”
Treadwell said recently that the extended minutes — he’s averaging 33 in all games and 35 in conference games up four minutes in each category over last year — won’t hurt him because he knows how to take care of his body at this stage of his collegiate career.
Dambrot said the time hasn’t hurt Treadwell’s offense, but his defense suffers a little because of the situation.
Update on Kretzer
Kretzer will miss seven to 14 days because of his concussion. It’s the second he’s suffered as a UA player.
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.