It looked clear by the 5:30 mark of the first half Saturday that all the University of Akron had to do was hold on against host Central Michigan. The Zips almost couldn’t.


At that point the Zips held a 19-point lead and both offense and defense played in harmony as coach Keith Dambrot’s team dictated tone and tempo early to win its third consecutive and seventh of eight games 74-64.


“When we can get out and run, we’re really good. We got easy shots. We shared the ball well,” Dambrot said.


Looks often can be deceiving, however, as the Zips (14-7, 6-1 Mid-American Conference) struggled their way to what should have been an easy victory over the Chippewas (7-13, 2-5)


“We’ve done a lot of traveling in January and I thought it looked that way today,” Dambrot said.


The Chippewas whittled away that 19-point lead, which probably felt insurmountable at one point, until they got to within three points at 63-60 before the Zips regrouped to close the game out on an 11-4 run began by some excellent defense.


“We’ve been that way all year, a little spurty,” Dambrot said. “We missed free throws or we probably would have blown them out in the first half.”


With 3:21 left in the game, forward Quincy Diggs connected on the first of two free throws. On the next attempt, he missed. Center Zeke Marshall came in to clean up the rebound, grabbing the ball putting it back in the hole and getting fouled in the process. After he hit the free throw to complete the continuation play, it deflated Central Michigan.


“That was a giant play and he finished it,” Dambrot said. “That took us up by seven points. That was a huge play.”


Once again the Zips won by capitalizing on the team’s strength: a litany of players — nine in all — got on the scoreboard. Marshall and reserve Nick Harney led the team with 13 points, followed by guard Chauncey Gilliam with 11. That depth once again helped them to pull out the win. The Chippewas’ Derek Jackson led all scorers with 21.


But they had their problems as well, mostly in the second half, as they only shot 61 percent from the free-throw line — 22-of-36. Had they connected on a reasonable number of those, the game would have never been that close.


But there were other things at play, too. After being up by 19 in a road game, there is no excuse for the way the rest of it unfolded.


“I don’t think they were complacent,” Dambrot said. “We knew when they were hanging around that was not good for us. We slowed ourselves down. We were a little tired.”