A dominating first-half performance was the key to a strong finish for one of the best nonconference seasons ever for the University of Akron women's basketball program.
That enabled the Zips to survive a less-than-stellar second half en route to a 63-44 victory Saturday over Malone University at Rhodes Arena.
The Zips (9-2) equaled the win total for each of their past two entire seasons, with all of their Mid-American Conference schedule yet to be played. They also tied UA's second-best start for the first 11 games of a season.
"I thought we came out strong," Zips coach Melissa Jackson said. "I thought that third quarter, we had some breakdowns. They drove it a little harder on us and then we didn't get stops, we couldn't run in transition and that was probably a big key to the second half."
Point guard Shaunay Edmonds was the leading scorer for the Zips with 14 points, their lone player in double figures. Kendall Miller, a freshman from St. Vincent-St. Mary, had nine points.
It was the second game back for Edmonds, a 5-foot-4 junior from Pittsburgh, following a six-game suspension for a team rules violation.
"It was definitely a fight," she said of the time off. "But I just kept going strong and practicing and going hard for when I do come back."
Jackson said Edmonds handled the situation well.
"She did an unbelievable job of coming in every single day and making our scout team better," Jackson said. "And preparing us during that time and being a great teammate."
With just one turnover — compared to eight assists — in the first half, the Zips rolled to a 33-13 lead at the half against the visiting Pioneers.
But Malone (4-9), a Division II school from the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, did not go down quietly. Starting the second half with a 12-4 run, the Pioneers cut the deficit to 37-25 midway through the third quarter.
That was as close as the Pioneers got, but subpar shooting plagued the Zips. The most glaring deficiency was behind the 3-point arc. The Zips made just 1-of-20 for the game.
Jackson said the eight-day, post-Christmas layoff might have contributed to that.
And the Zips did own a 57-35 rebounding advantage, led by freshman Colleen Neitzel with seven. Neitzel also led with five assists.
"These kids have worked really hard," said Jackson, in her first year as head coach. "They've bought into everything we've thrown at them."
Robin Campbell, a 5-4 freshman point guard from Alliance (Marlington), led Malone with 12 points.
The Zips open their MAC season Saturday at Central Michigan.