AKRON, Ohio -- It was one of those games -- a game when one team would have to grind out a victory against a tough opponent. The Akron Zips did just that Friday when they defeated the Western Michigan Broncos 62-53 at Rhodes Arena
Akron (13-2, 2-0 MAC) picked up its 10th consecutive victory and is off to its best start since moving into Division I.
“It was a weird game.” Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said. “They kind of out-toughed us for a stretch, then when it mattered we made a couple of shots and won the game.”
Sophomore guard Antino Jackson led UA with 15 points. He also had eight rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. Senior Jake Kretzer came off the bench to add 13, going four-of-seven from three point range.
Western Michigan (6-9, 0-2) suffered its second straight loss and fourth in the last five games
“We just had an . . .
Sophomore guard Thomas Wilder led all scorers in the contest with 26 points, going 10-of-15 from the field, along with nine rebounds. Senior Anthony Avery Jr added 10 points and 10 caroms.
The Broncos opened a 5-2 lead to start the game. However after Antino Jackson converted a conventional three-point play at the 16:22 mark, the Zips moved in front and maintained a lead the rest of the way.
UA built as much as a 14-point lead, its largest of the game, at the 11:17 mark on a layup by senior Pat Forsythe.
WMU cut the lead to six, 27-21, when freshman Brice Moore hit one of two free throws. However, the Zips went on a quick 7-2 spurt, fueled by a pair of threes from Kretzer, and went into halftime with a an 11-point advantage. 34-23.
When asked about the threes just before intermission, Kretzer said “I was feeling it. I hit a deep one (from the right corner) and the other was a pull-up (from the top of the key) It was a huge momentum boost for us.”
A layup off the glass by Antino Jackson at the start of the second half pushed UA’s lead out to 13 points at 36-23. It would be one of just two 3-point field goals the Zips would score in the second half. Over the final 20 minutes, they would go 5-of-22 from the field (22.7%) and just 2-of-9 inside the arc.
Even though both teams had trouble finding the basket, both from the field and from the free throw line, it was the visitors from Kalamazoo who fared a little bit better. They chipped away at their deficit, closing to within two 43-41 at the 8:59 mark on a short jumper in the lane by Wilder, who scored 15 of WMU’s 30 second half points.
When asked about his leading scorer so far this season, Hawkins said “Thomas is special. He really is. He seems to grow a little bit more every time he is out on the court. He has a lot of tricks in his bag.”
It would be the closest the Broncos would get for the rest of the game.
The key moment in the contest came at the 6:26 mark. With UA holding to a 48-44 lead, senior Reggie McAdams was fouled attempting a three-pointer. McAdams made all three free throws pushing the lead back out to seven 51-44.
UA then put the game away with a 6-0 run, keyed by a three from junior Kwan Cheatham Jr. from the right arc. That pushed the lead out to 11 with 1:04 remaining and Akron finished up by nine.
Glancing at the stats, it is still surprising how the Zips found a way to defeat WMU. The Broncos dominated the glass 50-35, including 24 offensive rebounds. Western won the battle inside, 26-16, and had 18 second chance points to 15 for Akron. However WMU turned the ball over 14 times, resulting in 14 UA points.
When asked about the resiliency of his team, Dambrot said “These guys know how to win. The find ways to win.”
For his part, Hawkins was disappointed with the loss, but not with the effort of his squad. “I was really pleased with the effort. ... We held an outstanding offensive team to 34 percent shooting. (Still), in the end, nobody likes a loss”
UA heads out on a two-game road trip Tuesday night beginning at Central Michigan, while WMU returns home to face Ball State.