By EVAN MEYER
AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips emphatically ended a two-game losing streak as they dominated the Northern Illinois Huskies, 76-52, in an opening round game of the 2015 Mid-American Conference Tournament Monday night at Rhodes Arena.
Akron (19-13, 9-9 MAC), the seventh seed, avenged an early season loss to the Huskies and advanced to the second round at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Wednesday night. UA will face the Western Michigan Broncos who defeated Ohio, 82-74, Monday night in Kalamazoo.
“I am happy for our guys.” Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said. “When you are going to make 14 threes, you are going to win.”
Senior Deji Ibitayo led four UA players in double figures coming off the bench for a game-high 18 points while going seven-of-eight from the field. Junior Reggie McAdams also came off the bench to score 15, including 12 from 3-point range. Sophomore Kwan Cheatham had 12 points with five rebounds, while freshman Antino Jackson had 10 with five assists.
Northern Illinois (14-16), the tenth seed, saw its four-game winning streak come to an end while suffering its first road defeat since February 16th when the Huskies fell at Central Michigan.
Sophomore Aaric Armstead led the NIU with 12 points, along with six rebounds and an assist. Senior Anthony Johnson added 10 points in his final game for NIU.
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The Zips put their stamp on the game as they went on a 22-4 run to open a 33-6 lead at the 9:16 mark on a four-point play by McAdams.
When asked about his team’s sizzling start, Dambrot said, “We played in a good rhythm and they didn’t. That’s basketball.”
UA’s biggest lead in the opening period was 28 points on two occasions. The first was 40-12 at the 5:32 mark on a three from the left arc by Cheatham. Sophomore Isiah Johnson scored on a driving layup in the final minute of the half to make the score 48-20 at intermission.
The Zips very sharp at both ends of the court. Offensively, they shot 60 percent from the field (18-of-30), which included eight 3-pointers. Defensively, they held the Huskies to just 9-of-21 from the floor (43.9%). In addition, they held a decisive 15-8 rebounding edge and forced 10 turnovers, leading to 21 points.
At the start of the second half, the visitors from DeKalb tried to get back into the game as they scored the first eight points. Five came from Aaric Armstead, whose driving layup got the Huskies to 48-28 a little over 90 seconds into the half.
However, any hope of a Huskies revival was quickly squashed by the Zips as they scored the next seven points part of 22-5 run Akron owned a 70-33 lead with 9:45 remaining on a three from the left corner by Cheatham.
The Zips largest lead of the game was 39 points when sophomore Aaron Jackson hit a three from the right corner. NIU scored the final 15 points of the contest to slightly dampen the gap.
UA did cool off in the second half, going just 8-of-21 from the field (38.1%). It finished the game at 51 percent (26-of-51), including 14 from beyond the arc. The defense, meanwhile, continued its strong showing, holding the Huskies to 11-of-30 from the floor in the second half (36.7%) and 39.2% (20-of-51) in the contest.
UA won the rebounding battle 33-27. It forced NIU into 14 turnovers converting them into 27 points. The visitors had 13 second chance points thanks to 12 offensive rebounds and won the battle inside with 34 of their 52 points coming inside the paint.
When asked about the trip to Cleveland. Mc Adams said “We are packing for five days -- hopefully coming back with the tournament title.”
Earlier in the season, Akron beat the Broncos twice. However, it was WMU who ended UA’s tournament run a year ago with a 64-60 win in overtime en route to the MAC Tournament title. The two will meet again late on Wednesday night (approximately 30 minutes after the 6:30 game concludes).