AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips used an 18-6 run midway through the second half, turning an 11-point deficit into a lead they would not relinquish as they defeated the Toledo Rockets 71-65 Tuesday night at Rhodes Arena.
Akron (22-4, 12-1 MAC) extended its . . .
“I am pleased with our resiliency.” Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said. “I thought when we went down 11, it was a real test for these guys. They never quit. We weren’t very good offensively, but we got a lot of (defensive) stops when it mattered.”
Senior Kwan Cheatham led all scorers in the game with 21 points, along with 10 rebounds and three assists. Fellow senior Isaiah Johnson added 18 and seven boards, while junior Antino Jackson had 13.
Toledo (13-13, 6-7) saw its three-game winning streak come to an end. With the loss, UT fell into a tie for second place in the Western Division, one game behind Ball State, who defeated Northern Illinois in DeKalb.
I look at this as a lost opportunity.” Rockets head man Tod Kowalczyk said. “They had a big run in the second half, and we did not respond well to that.”
Senior Steve Taylor and sophomore Nate Navigato led the Rockets with 13 points each, with Taylor pulling down 13 rebounds. Navigato’s markers came off the bench. Senior Jonathan Williams scored 12 with seven assists, while another senior, Jordan Lauf, added 11 with eight caroms.
The game was a close, tight-knit affair until the final moments of the first half when the Rockets used a 9-3 spurt to take a 37-33 lead into halftime.
In that opening 20 minutes, UT shot just below 50 percent from the field (14-of-27) and held an 18-14 rebounding edge. UA on the other hand was only 12-of-31 from the floor (38.7%), with a majority of its misses coming from close to the basket.
Taylor, a transfer from Marquette, scored 10 points and had seven rebounds in the opening period as he used a quick first-step on Johnson, who had five in this battle of two of the top the big men.
At the start of the second half, UA opened the game’s largest lead 49-38 with 10:37 remaining when Navigato connected on a 3-pointer from the right corner.
The game changed from that point on, It happened when Dambrot made two key adjustments. The first was using going to a smaller lineup inserting bench players freshman Tavian Dunn-Martin and sophomores Josh Williams and Emmanuel Olojakpoke to leverage their quickness on defense.
When asked about the small lineup Dambrot said “I thought that second group picked up the pace for us with their enthusiasm.”
The second Dambrot move was switching Cheatham to defend against Taylor who managed just three points in the second half. Chetham’s positioning defensively gave Taylor problems he did not have when Johnson was on him in the first half.
The decisive run started when Cheatham, who had seven points during the spurt, converted a conventional three-point play. Johnson, who was then guarded by Luke Knapke, had six en route to scoring 13 in the second half.
UA took the lead for good, 56-55, with 5:09 remaining after junior Jimmond Ivey hit a three from the right corner.
The home team built a nine-point advantage, its largest of the game, 64-55 when Johnson scored on a layup at the 2:53 mark.
Johnson, however, missed the front ends of one-and-one free throws on three occasions in the closing moments to give UT a chance. The Rockets closed to within four 67-63 on a layup by Lauf with 1:01 remaining but could not get any closer.
In the second half, UA opened the period going 2-of-15 from the field. From that point on they were 12-of-17 overall. For the game, the Zips shot just 41.3 percent from the floor (26-of-63) and were only 8-of-15 from the free throw line (53.3%).
UA won the battle of the boards 40-36, with 12 of them coming on the offensive glass. Akron had a 26-18 edge in the second half while turning the ball over just seven times and only twice in the final stanza.
The Rockets finished the game at 43.4 percent from the floor (23-of-53) and made just 9-of-26 in the second half. In addition, UT committed 11 turnovers, which Akron converted into 14 points.
Both teams are back in action this weekend. On Friday, the Zips face arch-rival Kent State, who defeated Miami 78-72 Tuesday night. Toledo heads back to Savage Hall to face Central Michigan, who lost to Buffalo 99-93.