University of Akron fans paying close attention for the past four games couldn’t help but notice a distinct difference in junior center Zeke Marshall in last Wednesday’s effort against Bowling Green compared to the prior three.


Marshall averaged just a little more than six points in the first three games, including a four-point, one-rebound effort on national television against Oral Roberts.


UA coach Keith Dambrot took things into his hands — literally.


“Zeke is the main difference maker we have. I was upset over how he played the last two weeks,” Dambrot said. “I was so upset that I started coaching him myself on Monday. I probably verbally abused him on Monday, I was really tough on him.”


Monday and Tuesday, he spent a half hour after practice working with Marshall. They spent 10 minutes each on guarding in the post, scoring in the post and shot blocking.


Marshall responded with 16 points, setting the tone offensively against the Falcons.


Dambrot said that he didn’t make the move out of any disrespect for his assistant coaches.


“When I work with him, he plays better,” Dambrot said. “I know for us to win big, he has to play good. I know he can’t have one rebound like he did against Oral Roberts.”


Although they’ve clinched a tie for the regular-season Mid-American Conference title, with three games — Ohio, Kent State and Buffalo remaining — Marshall’s presence in the middle could continue to set the tone for the Zips in the postseason.


Eyes on the prize


There was no celebrating after the Zips clinched their share of the top spot in the conference Wednesday.


“These guys are weird. Nothing really matters to them,” Dambrot joked.


Actually plenty matters to the Zips, especially winning.


“The last stretch of February, early March, this is where the fun is winning the regular-season championship which has never been done here,” guard Brian Walsh said.


Relaxing just a little


Dambrot has found one way to keep the team motivated, taking a page from the coaching manual of Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, a former Zips assistant.


Late in the season, practice sessions are minimal or optional, something that Dambrot rarely tried. But prior to Wednesday’s win over the Falcons he told his team that if they won, they’d go to a movie in Athens instead of practicing prior to playing the Bobcats on Sunday night.


“They got all excited. That was my motivational tool for the game,” he said.


Knowing when to lay off, especially late in the season, is good coaching, he said.


Considering there’s little love lost on the part of Ohio fans, the Zips might want to reconsider being seen on the streets of Athens.


“We’re so well liked in Athens, we may have to wear armored suits,” Dambrot said.


Women seek sweep


The Zips are looking for a sweep of rival Kent State with a win today at the M.A.C. Center. In the last meeting, UA won 68-62 behind the efforts of Ti’eshia Stubbs and Jasmine Mushington, who each scored 15 points. A win would secure a home game for the Zips in the MAC Tournament.


George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.