AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips used a 19-2 second half run to take the lead, then held on for dear life as the Bryan Bulldogs used a barrage of three-pointers to make the game close in a 72-66 Akron victory late Sunday afternoon at Rhodes Arena.
Akron (4-2) bounced back after a loss early last week at Penn State, where they squandered a second-half lead. Sunday’s tilt was the Zips’ first home game since the season opener when they defeated Maryland-Baltimore County back on November 14th 74-57.
Even though his team picked up the victory, Zips head coach Keith Dambrot noticed his squad didn’t seem to be operating on all cylinders. “I thought we didn’t have great energy. You can tell we just didn’t have great legs.”
Bryant (1-3) out of the Northeast Conference, played without head coach Tim O’Shea, who is at the bedside of his ailing mother. The Bulldogs dropped their second on the road and fell to 0-3 away from home with losses at defending National Champion Connecticut and at Vermont. Former Boston College head man and current associate head coach Al Skinner was in charge of the team.
Senior guard Dymani Starks had a game-high 25 points, with 21 of them coming from three-point range. He connected on 7-of-15 from beyond the arc. Junior Curtis Oakley, meanwhile, added 13 with four rebounds and a steal.
UA started the game strong, scoring eight of the game’s first 10 points while building a 13-5 lead at the 15:02 mark on a three from the top of the circle by Robotham.
The Bulldogs closed to within 13-12 on a layup by redshirt freshman Bosko Kostur. However, UA pushed the lead out to 11 (29-18), its largest advantage of the opening 20 minutes, thanks to a pair of threes -- one from Robotham again from the top of the circle and the other from junior Reggie McAdams from the right arc.
The Bulldogs ended the first half outscoring UA 11-3 to close their deficit to three points at the break, 32-29.
Both teams shot poorly in the first half. UA was 11-of-28 from the field (39.3%), while Bryant wasn’t any better, going 12-of-32 (37.5%). The home team held a 22-16 rebounding edge.
At the start of the second half, Bryan tied the score 32-32 on a three from the left arc by Starks. It was the first of four he would make in the final 20 minutes.
The Zips responded by opening a pair of three point leads -- the last being 40-37 on a jumper by Robotham from the left wing. He would finish the game leading UA in scoring for the third consecutive game. It was the fifth time in the last six outings that he would score in double figures.
Bryant used a 7-0 spurt to take its first and only lead of the game, 44-40, on a twisting off balance layup by Oakley.
Curtis Oakley is the nephew of Charles Oakley, the Cleveland native who starred in the NBA. Playing in front of family and friends, the 13 points and 20 minutes were Curtis Oakley’s best so far in this young season.
After the ‘Dogs took the lead, Akron went on a run that would give it the lead for the rest of the game. The spurt consisted of 14 unanswered points, led by Ibitayo (seven points, along with three steals), a pair of threes from junior Jake Kretzer and one from beyond the arc by freshman Antino Jackson.
When asked about the run that would give his team the lead for good, Dambrot said “I thought Deji sparked us, as well as Jackson. When we substituted him for Noah (Robotham), we made our run.”
“I just try to be the high energy guy I can,” Ibitayo said. “That’s what I like to do, especially steal the ball. Those are energy plays to help us win.”
The only points Bryant would score during the run were a pair of free throws by junior Shane McLaughlin. In fact, the Bulldogs would go almost nine minutes without a basket.
Thanks to the run. UA built its largest lead of the contest, 59-46, on a three from the right corner by Jackson, who finished the game with six points.
When Starks connected on a three from the right arc with 6:23 remaining, it began the Bulldogs last push. They outscored UA 20-10 as their last six field goals came from beyond the three-point line.
The Zips still held a 10-point lead 67-57 at the 1:09 mark when Forsythe made one of two free throws. The ‘Dogs then hit three treys to give UA real cause for concern.
The first came from Starks from the top of the circle, while the second was from Kostur from the right arc. The redshirt freshman from Australia finished with seven points. A third trey came from the right corner by junior Zach Chionuma with 22.5 seconds remaining to make the score 69-66.
After a time out, Bryant had a chance to slice the deficit even further when Starks stole the inbound pass and drove to the basket. However, he missed his only two-point attempt in the entire game. A second Bryan chance was blocked by junior Kwan Cheatham.
After the Zips gained possession, they sealed the outcome with three foul shots (two from Ibitayo and one from Forsythe).
When asked about the final moments, Dambrot said “We made 10 mistakes in the last two minutes, which is hard to do. Even a blind squirrel trying to find his acorn doesn’t make them. That is why the game got close.”
UA raised its shooting game in the second half, hitting 54.2 percent (13-of-24) to finish the contest at 46.2 percent (24-of-52). Akron won the rebound battle, 41-32, while scoring 14 points off of eight Bryant turnovers.
Free throws remain an area of some concern as the Zips were 9-of-15 in the second half and just 65.2 percent over the 40 minutes (15-of-23).
The Bulldogs scored eight of their nine field goals in the second half from beyond the arc (8-of-15) they were just 1-of-13 inside the line and finished the game overall at 35 percent from the field (21-of-60).
The Zips continue a four-game home stand on Tuesday night when Arkansas-Pine Bluff out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference pays a visit to The JAR.