By EVAN MEYER
AKRON, OHIO – It was a night for celebrations Tuesday at Rhodes Arena as the Akron Zips held off a pesky challenge from the Bowling Green Falcons to post an 89-84 victory in the Mid-American Conference opener for both schools.
It was victory No. 289 for Zips head coach Keith Dambrot, who in his 13th season, is now the winningest head coach in school history. In addition, Akron (11-3, 1-0 MAC) extended its home winning streak to 24 games the third longest active streak in Division I (behind Kansas and Oregon).
“The game was . . .
Junior Jimond Ivey lead four UA players in double figures with a game high 23 points, adding six rebounds, two assists, and two blocked shots to his line.. Senior Kwan Cheatham added 18 and seven boards. Fellow senior Isaiah Johnson had 16 with eight caroms and eight helpers, while sophomore Josh Williams came off the bench to score 11.
Bowling Green (6-8, 0-1) saw its modest two game winning streak come to an end and remained winless (0-6) away from the Stroh Center so far this season.
“It was a great battle tonight. You have to play almost a perfect game to beat Akron at Akron.” BGSU head coach Michael Huger said.
Sophomore Demajeo Wiggins led five BGSU players in double figures with 21 points, going 10-of-17 from the field, as well as pulling down eight rebounds. Sophomore Antwon Lillard, along with seniors Zach Denny and Ismail Ali, each scored 16. Ali added four rebounds, five assists, and five steals. Senior Wes Alcegaire chipped in 10 points.
The game opened up with a pair of runs. The first came from the Falcons, who scored the first eight points before Akron countered with 10 straight of its own.
UA opened up a pair of seven point leads, the last being 26-19 on a layup by Johnson at the 6:56 mark. Then, in what would be a theme for the evening, every time the Zips opened a lead, BGSU fought back to make the game close.
The visitors used a 12-4 spurt to take a 31-30 lead at the 3:02 mark on a free throw by Ali. However, it was the home team that took a 37-35 lead into halftime.
Both teams shot the ball well in the first half with the Zips going 15-of-31 from the field (48.4%), while BGSU was an even 50 percent from the floor (15-of-30). All but one of the Falcons baskets came from inside the three-point arc and 26 of the 35 points were inside the paint.
At the start of the second half, UA pushed the lead out to five on two occasions only to see the Falcons again bounce back and tie the game 46-46 on a layup by Wiggins at the 15:57 mar.
When asked about the play of his center so far this season, Huger said “In the summer, he put on 22 pounds of muscle to give him more bulk and battle inside against players like Johnson. In addition, He is making his free throws this season, as well as working on his jump hook shot -- something we had been doing during the summer.”
The Zips then scored 10 unanswered points to take a 56-46 lead on a slam dunk by Cheatham. That grew to 11, the largest of the game, at 59-48 when Williams connected on a three from the right arc.
BGSU rallied with an 11-1 run to close the deficit to a single point, 60-59, with 8:63 remaining on a pair of free throws by Ali. It would, however, be the closest the Falcons would get for the remainder of the game.
The Zips maintained a lead, building as much as a 10-point advantage, 77-67, thanks to a three from Cheatham from the left arc with 4:13 remaining. Again, the Falcons just would not go away and, in the final moments, closed to within three when Ali made a three from the right arc with 10.8 seconds remaining.
Ivey, who scored 14 points in the second half, going eight-of-nine from the free throw line, sealed the victory with two foul shots with 10.4 seconds remaining. it was UA’s 17th straight win over the Bowling Green.
Both teams shot lights out in the second half. The Zips went 15-of-22 from the floor (6-of-10 from three-point range), finishing the contest at 56.6% (30-of-53). The Falcons were 18-of-31 (58.1%) and shot 54.1 percent over the 40 minutes (33-of-61). UA won the rebound battle 31-23.
When asked about becoming the school’s winningest coach, Dambrot said the record meant a lot to him, but moreso because of those who came before him. He never saw Ross Beichly’s teams play, of course, but he did see other UA coaches, such as Bob Huggins — current West Virginia coach.
Dambrot also mentioned he was very blessed to be coaching at his alma mater -- a school where his mom was a professor and in an area where he grew up. His father was a good player and took him early to home games to watch how coaches prepared for games.
UA returns to action on Friday night, hosting Western Michigan. BGSU remains on the road, heading to Ball State on Saturday afternoon.