The University of Akron men’s basketball team brought some offense with them to the opening game of the Mid-American Conference Tournament against Miami University.
The trademark defense remained on full display for the Zips (17-15) but they uncharacteristically made shots — a lot of them — on their way to defeating the RedHawks 80-51 at Rhodes Arena on Monday night.
Point guard Loren Cristian Jackson found the range on the way to a game-high 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting, leading three Zips in double figures. Forward Daniel Utomi followed him with 20 points.
Miami’s Nike Sibande matched Jackson’s 25 points.
The Zips can thank a combination of intense defense and fortune that allowed them to break away in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
UA coach John Groce lauded the offensive effort, once again defense was the priority.
After taking a 39-24 halftime lead — a lead that should have been larger — UA’s defense clamped down to hold the RedHawks (15-17) without a field goal until 13:32 was left in the game. By that time, the Zips had amassed a 49-31 lead courtesy of an 0-for-9 shooting stretch and four turnovers for Miami.
And where was the fortune? The Zips benefited from Miami missing on several wide-open looks. That doesn’t necessarily diminish UA’s effort, as they gave the RedHawks plenty to think about on their possessions.
UA held Miami, a team that lost their last three games of the regular season, to 25 percent shooting (14-of-56). The numbers proved worse from behind the 3-point arc, where Miami made 5-of-28 for 17 percent.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the defense,” Groce said of the team’s effort for 40 minutes. “Our guys were really locked in on defense.”
For those wondering where the Zips' 3-point shooting was this season, they suddenly found it. Of the Zips' 51 shot attempts, 32 were from beyond the arc and they made 17 of them for 53 percent. For the game, they shot 53 percent on 27-of-51 field goals.
Miami coach Jack Owens said he was aware of the Zips' offensive woes this season and the offensive output proved surprising.
“They made 17 threes and shot it extremely well,” he said. “Those things happen when you let a team get in rhythm shooting the ball.”
UA made it look that easy for much of the game.
The Zips opened the first half on fire, amassing a 20-point lead with 5:33 to go. Given they shot 50 percent from the floor, it’s not difficult to discern why. The Zips made 13-of-26 shots, including 7-of-15 from behind the 3-point line.
In the process, the RedHawks found making baskets difficult, even when open. But as the first half wore on, the Zips picked up the defensive intensity. They held Miami to 23 percent shooting, 7-of-30, including 3-of-15 (20 percent) from behind the arc.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.