AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips used a 14-4 run early in the second half to pull away from the Ohio Bobcats and register a 91-76 victory Tuesday night before 4,192 fans at Rhodes Arena and a national television audience.
With the victory, Akron (23-7, 12-5 MAC) clinched first place in the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division and owns the MAC overall regular-season title. That is good for the No. 1 seed at next week’s MAC Tournament in Cleveland.
“I thought it was a really entertaining game.” Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said. “I am proud of my guys.”
Senior Reggie McAdams and . . .
Ohio (19-10, 10-7 MAC) fell for the second time in its last three outings, dropping into a second place tie with Kent State, who defeated Bowling Green earlier in the evening.
“Certainly disappointed.” Bobcats head man Saul Phillips said. “I told our guys to be ready from the get-go. We took that sledgehammer to the head (in the first half). Our guys stayed calm and battled back. We simply did not do a good job defensively.”
Sophomore guard Jaaron Simmons led all scorers in the contest with 25 points and seven assists while senior Treg Setty, freshman Jordan Dartis, and junior Kenny Kaminski each scored 13 points.
The first half, played before UA’s largest home crowd of the season, was a pair of runs -- one by each side.
Akron opened the contest with an exhibition of three-point shooting as it quickly built a 15-2 lead by the 15:07 mark following a three from the left arc by McAdams. He hit five of his first six shots, scoring 18 points in the opening 20 minutes.
It would be another night in the record book for the Zips as they hit a school record 20 from beyond the arc. That eclipsed the mark (19) they set Friday night in a win over Bowling Green.
After UA’s lead grew to 19 points, 32-13, at the 9:09 mark on a driving layup by Cheatham, the Bobcats kicked their game into gear.
Ohio put together an 18-1 run over the next five minutes to slice the deficit to two 33-31 on a driving layup by Dardis at the 3:18 mark. OU cut the margin down to two on three more occasions, the last being 39-37 when Simmons, a transfer from Houston, connected on a foul line extended jumper with 36 seconds remaining in the half.
Before the period ended, Robotham connected on a three from the right corner to give the Zips a 42-37 lead at halftime.
Ohio closed back to within two points for a fifth and final time early in the second half when Kaminski, a transfer from Michigan State playing in front of family and friends from nearby Medina, Ohio, hit a three from the left arc.
The Zips then went on a 14-4 run that secured their lead for good, 56-44, at the 14:20 mark when Robotham connected on a jumper from the baseline. In fact, the closest Ohio would get for the remainder of the game was nine points at 60-51 when Dardis made a pair of free throws at the 12:16 mark.
UA pushed the lead out to 18 points on two occasions, the last being 77-59 when Cheatham connected on a three from the top of the key before winning by 15 to remain undefeated at home (14-0) with one game remaining.
In defeat, Phillips gave credit to the Zips. “In a year of no separation, they had enough and five losses in this league is championship worthy. They should be commended on that.”
The end of the game produced a wild celebratory scene on the floor which included cutting down the nets at both baskets – something UA hopes to do again at the MAC tourney next week.
When asked about the character and durability of his team, Dambrot said “We had to re-invent ourselves when (senior Pat) Forsythe went down and what we did -- a change of a defensive grinding team that I had there to an offensive one.”
Both teams end the regular season on Friday against their arch rivals. Akron is home to face Kent State, while Ohio travels to Miami to battle the RedHawks