It was no mistake when University of Akron basketball coach Keith Dambrot used a boxing analogy after his team’s brutal, albeit thrilling 20-point comeback win over Buffalo on Saturday. Ditto for UA’s recent win over Kent State.

The Zips are taking the best shots from almost every one of their opponents, especially in the Mid-American Conference, and they’ve still managed to open the conference season 6-0.

“Everybody wants to beat the Akron Zips and the Ohio Bobcats,” Dambrot said.

With the exception of their recent game against Toledo, which they won fairly easily, the Zips have learned exactly what Dambrot knows.

And perhaps it explains their sluggish starts in the MAC during the first portion of the conference season and most notably their two comeback wins over KSU and Buffalo.

No one thought that the archrival Golden Flashes were going to roll over, and they came out fighting against the listless Zips, delivering a virtual nosebleed.

The Zips can overcome a nosebleed. But last Saturday the Bulls went for a knockout and the Zips found themselves staggering and behind by 20 with just over nine minutes left in the first half.

“They had us knocked out in that first half,” Dambrot said of the Bulls. “We just caught enough air that we recovered and came back.”

When asked what caused their slow starts, center Zeke Marshall said, “We don’t know. But I do know we’re going to find a way to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

“And we’re going to continue to work on it so we don’t struggle so much to open games. We have to find that niche that’s going to help us so we don’t have to deal with that.”

No one can really explain it, but it might center on point guard Alex Abreu. He has struggled offensively in the past five games, not scoring in the first halves of them.

“That is a bit alarming because he does like to score, but he also likes to get his team involved, too,” Marshall said. “I’m looking at it as he’s trying to get his teammates involved rather than get himself involved, because he knows how to control the game that much.”

Abreu willingly shoulders some of the responsibility.

“You can say it’s on me, but I still say that I’m playing aggressively offensively. I’m not the kind of player who forces things,” he said. “In the first half, we try to get everybody involved and we try to get Zeke Marshall and [Demetrius Treadwell] going. The second half, I try to do what I do to help my team win.”

Dambrot said that some of this is by design, as Abreu tries to get his teammates going before he worries about putting his imprint on the game offensively.

Marshall agreed.

“He doesn’t just set the tone offensively,” he said. “He has to be phenomenal on defense while everybody is falling behind him. He is, technically, the frontline.”

But with whatever Abreu’s doing, his teammates have to do their share. In those same first halves, the Zips’ offensive numbers can be described as mediocre, including 42 percent shooting.

It has forced them to tough out some games, especially against Buffalo.

“The good thing is we still won the game and that is a huge teaching point for our guys,” Dambrot said. “We can’t start like that. But two, we took two punches and gutted it out, which shows that we can come back. We have to use both of those teaching points.”

Ultimately, Dambrot and Abreu said that any adversity they face can only make the team as a whole better.

“It’s good for our team in general because we know that on any given night, we can get stung,” Abreu said. “We have to play from every angle so we can’t get used to winning.”

Three’s the charm

Marshall received his third MAC East Player of the Week award Monday, one that he had to share with Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper.

The conference office recognized Marshall for a week in which he averaged 13 points, six rebounds and 7.5 blocks.

“As long as we keep winning, I’m honored to be player of the week,” he said.

Marshall previously won the award the weeks of Nov. 19 and Dec. 31.

George M. Thomas can be reached at Read the Zips blog at Follow him on Twitter at and on Facebook at