The Mid-American Conference opener for the University of Akron men’s basketball team unfolded as if it were the first game of the season.
Sloppy play, missed layups and generally mediocre basketball were the lowlights in the first half by UA (9-5, 1-0) and Western Michigan (6-8, 0-1) Saturday afternoon at Rhodes Arena.
But a Zips team that went into the locker room after shooting 22 percent (7-of-32) in the first half and trailing 24-23 received a spark to begin the second half from senior guard Jimond Ivey, who scored five quick points to help propel the Zips to a 56-48 victory that won’t be remembered for its execution or excitement for that matter.
Ivey led all scorers with 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds and produced an unofficial four steals.
His performance was exactly what the Zips needed.
“We had a senior play like a senior,” UA coach John Groce said. “His effort level was through the roof.”
Ivey said he just allowed things, the steals especially, to come to him.
“I just read the game,” he said. “Sometimes I just gamble and try to make a play. I don’t really think about it.”
Without Ivey’s mini burst, the teams and crowd remained listless — with good reason — until the game’s latter stages when the Zips were assured a win.
The Zips entered the game with the MAC's top-ranked defense, and that element of the team certainly revealed itself as UA played with grit and tenacity for much of the way. The Zips limited the Broncos to 31 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers, scoring 12 points off them. At one point in the second quarter, the Zips held Western Michigan without a basket for more than six minutes.
“Our defense was rock solid for 40 minutes,” Groce said.
No one will fault any team for playing defense, but the offense displayed no flow as the Zips struggled, connecting on 17-of-61 shots (28 percent) for the game. The percentages were worse from behind the 3-point arc as UA made just 6-of-31 attempts (19 percent).
The Broncos played decently on defense, but UA’s shots simply didn’t find the bottom of the basket. One problem was an inability to finish on the inside.
Groce, however, will take the win. A year ago, the Zips didn’t win games in which they played so poorly on offense.
“I think it speaks volumes to how far our guys have come at that end of the floor,” he said.
When the offense came, it did so in a timely fashion as the Zips, once again led by Ivey, came up with a 7-0 run to take a 52-41 lead with 4:22 left in the game.
Although they didn’t have to look back after that, they do have to look forward.
Defensively, there was plenty to like. Offensively? Well that’s a topic for Groce and his team to deal with in the coming days as they hit the road Tuesday for a game at Central Michigan, one of the better teams in the conference’s West Division.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.