The University of Akron basketball team has played several close games during the Mid-American Conference season, but few have been as scary as the first one against Buffalo in January at Rhodes Arena.
The Bulls (11-17, 6-7) used some outrageously accurate shooting to build a 20-point lead in the first half, before the Zips cut their deficit to six at the half.
Their frontline includes forward Javon McCrea (17.6 points, 8.1 rebounds). The Bulls are a team that has gained experience.
They can play with the Zips. And they know it.
In that first game, the Zips sliced away at the lead, but the Bulls built it to 15 in the second half before UA eked out a 68-64 victory.
“It’s a double-edge sword. They’re not as scared of us as some other teams in the league that we’ve dominated,” coach Keith Dambrot said Friday. “[Bulls coach Reggie Witherspoon] believes he can beat us as well.”
The Zips will return to what has worked for them all season. Yes, the Bulls display similar strengths as the Zips — rebounding ability, toughness — but they also own a glaring weakness: a lack of depth.
Five players average 25 minutes or more, and their point guard, senior Tony Watson, averages more than 33.
“We have to use our depth; there’s no question about it,” Dambrot said.
More than likely, that includes coming at Watson, who has stepped up due to the injury of teammate Jason Oldham. The Zips will try to disrupt Watson’s flow via a constant barrage of point guard Alex Abreu, backup Carmelo Betancourt and assorted teammates to provide a path to a 20th consecutive win.
“We gave them easy 3-point shots out of the fast break,” Abreu said. “We need to control fast-break points, make them play half court and make them shoot over Zeke [Marshall] and our big men. They won’t have that type of success again.”
Look for Abreu to continue something that has been more noticeable in games back to Bowling Green’s visit to Rhodes Arena a couple of weeks ago — the Zips are trying to play more up-tempo while imposing their will on their opponents.
“I’ve been told to push it a little bit and see if we can go for the throat more,” Abreu said. “We are looking for that first option [getting the ball inside].”
It hasn’t always looked pretty, but it has worked. Abreu offers a simple explanation.
“At the beginning of the season, everybody was trying to do too much,” he said. “Now everybody knows what we’ve got to do to win. It’s easier when you have a Tree who is on the game with me. We’re [in] sync. Me and Zeke are in sync. The shooters are aware of the plays being run; now we’re executing.”
Dambrot said that he’s looking to Abreu to continue providing the necessary leadership.
“It’s that time of the year that your point guard has to play well to win,” he said. “He’s kind of a scoring point guard, too. When he gets in double figures, we’re generally in pretty good shape and when he takes care of the ball, we’re in doubly good shape.”
Dambrot said that he’s more concerned about maintaining the status quo.
“I’m not worried about the streak,” he said. “I’m worried about the day-to-day operations of our team and how we practice and what our mindset is. I think if we take care of the day-to-day operations then the rest will follow.”
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.