AKRON, OHIO – One year ago, the Western Michigan Broncos defeated the Akron Zips twice -- once in the regular season and again in the semi-finals of the 2014 Mid-American Conference Tournament.
Tuesday night, the Zips got a little bit of revenge for those losses as they dominated from the start en route to a 72-52 victory in the MAC opener for both schools at Rhodes Arena.
Akron (10-4, 1-0 MAC) picked up a fourth consecutive win while improving its home record to 8-1.
“I thought we played our best game of the year.” Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said. “We got great contributions from everyone tonight.”
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Western Michigan (9-5, 0-1 MAC) saw its three-game winning streak come to an end, while their problems winning on the road continue; the Broncos are just 2-4 away from Kalamazoo.
“I though their physicality set the tone for the rest of the game.” Broncos head coach Steve Hawkins said. “They were just more physical than us. “
Sophomore Tucker Haymond led all scorers in the contest with 21 points going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Senior David Brown added 14 points with five rebounds and four assists before fouling out in the second half.
Both teams exchanged the lead in the opening minute. However, when Haymond connected on a three from the right corner, that would be the Broncos only lead of the game.
UA took control, opening a 16-7 lead at the 12:09 mark on the strength of a 16-3 run capped off by Forsythe, who scored on a reverse layup. He led the Zips in the opening half, scoring eight points.
The home team opened its biggest lead of the first half at 24-11 when freshman point guard Noah Robotham connected on a three from the right arc.
The Broncos then went on a 3-point barrage as their next five baskets came from beyond the arc. Four of them came from Haymond, who had 16 points in the opening period on 5-of-7 from beyond the line.
When asked about Haymond’s performance in the opening half, Dambrot said “He kills us every time we play them. It seems he plays his best against us.”
His last three at the 4:35 mark closed the deficit to five at 31-26. However, that was the closest WMU would get for the remainder of the game as the Zips pushed the lead back out to 10 at halftime, 40-30.
UA shot 43.8 percent (14-of-32) from the field going 6-of-17 from beyond the arc. It held a 20-14 rebounding edge. Nine of those came on the offensive glass, resulting in nine second chance points. Twenty-two of the 40 points came off the bench, thanks in part to seven from freshman Antino Jackson and six from Ibitayo. The Zips turned the ball over three times.
Western Michigan shot 44 percent in the opening 20 minutes (11-of-25), with six of those baskets coming from long range. However, junior Connor Tava – WMU’s leading scorer coming into the game at 15.2 pts per game, was held to just four points in the half and six points for the game
“I think the key to the game was our guys used their length (on Tava), keeping him away from his strengths. We made him a passer tonight rather than a scorer.” Dambrot said
At the start of the second half, the home team pulled away to open a 52-30 lead at the 15:08 mark when Aaron Jackson capped a run with a slam dunk.
From that point on, the Zips continued to extend the lead, with their largest being 69-44 at the 8:01 mark on a layup by junior Reggie McAdams, before winning by 19. It was their fifth consecutive conference opening win.
“We have had trouble with sustainability -- in letting big leads get away. We played more bodies in this game. In this game, we kept that sustainability. ”
UA picked up its shooting in the second half as it went 13-for-24 from the floor (27-of-56), finishing the game at 48.2 percenet (27-of-56). They had 10 baskets from beyond the arc -- the fifth time this season and third consecutive game in which they made 10 or more three-pointers.
The Zips dominated the boards 39-29, getting 13 offensive boards and 16 second chance points, they committed just nine turnovers, and had 36 points coming off the bench.
The Broncos were as cold as the falling temperatures in Northeast Ohio, going just 7-of-26 from the field in the second half (26.9%) to finish the game at just 35.3 percent (18-of-51).
While recognizing the Zips domination, Hawkins put the setback in perspective. “This is not the first time I have been part of a rear-end kicking in my 25 years as a coach, and it will not be the last.” Hawkins said.
Both teams return to action over the weekend, the Zips head to Toledo to face the Rockets (Friday, 7 p.m. ET) while WMU heads home to face Buffalo (Saturday, 1 p.m.).