A brief deficit was enough to motivate the University of Akron men’s basketball team Wednesday night at Rhodes Arena.
The Zips (14-6, 6-1 Mid-American Conference) shrugged off a 12-6 deficit to Ball State to go on a 24-2 run and ran away with a 73-46 Mid-American Conference win in front of a purple-clad crowd there to cheer the team and show support for director of basketball operations Dan Peters, who is battling pancreatic cancer.
“It’s a real emotional thing to see coach Pete going through pancreatic cancer,” Zips forward Demetrius Treadwell said “I’m glad we could get the win.”
If this was a case of the team going out and winning one to honor Peters, he had little to worry about.
The Zips ran their winning streak to three and, after tight-roping a precipice for much of the first half of the season when they played as if they could fall into the abyss, they appear to have found rhythm and chemistry.
“We have a lot of respect for his courage, determination. We’re going to fight with him all the way,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said of Peters. “We’re not going through it. We are in a way, emotionally. I’m just glad we played well for him.”
Treadwell and Nick Harney led the Zips with 15 points each. And freshman forward Kwan Cheatham followed with a career-high 14 points including 3-of-4 from behind the 3-point arc.
Majok Majok led the Cardinals (4-14, 1-6) with 15 points and three rebounds. Although he led his team, the Zips kept him in check for much of the game, as Treadwell kept his big body on him and tired him out with his offensive game.
In the process, Dambrot’s team ensured that the Cardinals’ other scorers — Chris Bond (six points) and Jesse Berry (six points) never found any offensive flow. He tried, but Majok couldn’t do it all.
“The plan was to let no one score tonight,” Treadwell said.
“He just found a way to score. Nobody else did, so we won the game. We played great D tonight.”
There’s little to dispute that. The Zips held the Cardinals to 35 percent shooting and 27 percent from behind the 3-point arc. They Zips also won the rebounding battle 34-26.
“That’s the best I’ve seen them play since I started watching them play this season,” Ball State coach James Whitford said.
The Zips proved unflappable in dominating, displaying balanced scoring and stingy defense. Four Zips scored in double figures, including Cheatham.
“I had to come in there and I just felt comfortable,” Cheatham said. “My defense led my offense and I felt like I couldn’t miss.”
An injury to freshman center Isaiah Johnson and center Pat Forsythe’s flu-like symptoms limited his play and gave Cheatham the opportunity.
“We’ve been struggling to get him minutes,” Dambrot said of Cheatham. “We’ve probably made a lot of mistakes not getting him minutes.”
After taking a 35-19 halftime lead, the Zips looked to breeze their way through the second half. That wasn’t meant to be. Ball State went on an 11-2 run to cut the deficit to seven points.
A couple of months ago, that would have been cause for concern, but UA found resilience and countered with a 14-3 run of its own.
Dambrot’s post-game smile told the story. The Zips played their all-around best game of the season.
“I don’t think we’re all the way there yet, but you can see us making strides,” Dambrot said.
Next up for UA is a game against rival Kent State on Saturday.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at https://ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.