AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips used a balanced scoring attack and then thwarted a late challenge from the Buffalo Bulls to post a 75-72 victory Saturday night before a crowd 3,570 at Rhodes Arena.
Akron (16-7, 7-3 MAC) rebounded from its narrow loss Wednesday night at Ohio and remained in a tie atop the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division with Kent State and Bowling Green, who won their respective games on Saturday.
“It was a game of runs.” Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said. “You had to weather the spurts and both teams had their spurts.”
Five UA players scored in double figures, led by Jake Kretzer, who came off the bench to score 13 points. The junior hit four-of-five from the field, with three of those baskets coming from beyond the arc. Junior Pat Forsythe added 11, while freshman Noah Robotham, and sophomores Kwan Cheatham Jr. and Isiah Johnson all scored 10.
Buffalo (15-7, 6-4 MAC) saw its three-game winning streak come to an end while finishing up a two-game road trip after winning at Ball State on Wednesday.
“(The game) was two teams going at each other hard,” Bulls head man Bobby Hurley said. “In the second half we didn’t play defense the first five minutes of the half. We dug ourselves a hole, and we could not get out.”
Buffalo senior Xavier Ford led all scorers in the game with 22 points, along with pulling down 10 rebounds. Junior Justin Moss, one of the most improved players in Division I, added 21 with six boards.
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The Zips responded with a 16-4 spurt to take a 20-11 at the 12;16 mark when Johnson scored off a missed shot from freshman guard Antino Jackson. UA’s lead grew to seven, 21-14, (its largest of the half) when Johnson made one-of-two free throws.
Asked about his new found confidence the past few games, Johnson said, “I have been trying to get out of my own way. I try to forget my wrist injury (that hampered him early in the season) and focus on what I do best and help the team.”
UB then used a 17-4 run of its own to regain the lead 33-30 at the 6:00 mark on a baseline jumper by Moss, who came into the game leading the MAC in both scoring and rebounding.
After the Bulls opened a four-point advantage at 39-35 on a layup by Moss, UA regained the lead, 41-39, thanks to Deji Ibitayo. The senior came off the bench and scored five of the Zips six unanswered points, his only points of the game.
However, it would be the visitors from Western New York taking the lead into halftime as they scored the last four points of the period, the last being a conventional three-point play by Moss for a 43-41 advantage.
“I liked where we were going into halftime. Our offense was playing very well,” Hurley said.
Both teams shot exactly50 percent from the floor; UA was 14-of-28, while UB was 17-of-34. The Bulls held a narrow 16-15 rebounding edge, with eight coming on the offensive glass resulting in 13 second chance points. There were eight combined turnovers in the entire first half.
“I thought they punked us physically (in the first half)” Dambrot said. “Moss and Ford beat us up.”UA came out in the second half scoring seven straight points as part of a 9-2 spurt to take a 50-45 lead at the 17:15 mark on a layup by redshirt freshman B.J.Gladden, who finished the game with nine points and five rebounds.
The Bulls countered, tying the score 50-50 at the 16:34 mark thanks to Lamonte Bearden. The freshman scored on a layup and then connected for a three from the right arc. He would finish the evening with 11 points and five assists.
The Zips took the lead for good, 51-50, on a free throw by Gladden, and the game stayed relatively close the rest of the way.
One of the key moments of the game was when Kretzer hit a pair of threes -- first from the left arc and then from the right arc -- as UA slowly built a seven point lead, 67-60, with 9:22 remaining after a layup by Johnson.
The Bulls closed the margin to 68-65 on a conventional three-point play by sophomore Shannon Evans, who had 13 points, four assists and two steals. However, UA used a three by Cheatham and a layup by Forsythe to open a 73-65 lead with 5:42 remaining.
UB made one final run thanks to seven points by Ford, the last being a three from the right arc with 57.9 seconds remaining closing the margin to three 75-72. Those points were the only ones Ford recorded in the second half as he was in foul trouble and picked up his fourth personal with 5:57 remaining.
When asked about any defensive adjustments the team made on Ford and Moss in the second half, Johnson said “We had to toughen up. They got a lot of offensive rebounds that they should not have had.”
The Zips had a opportunity to put the game away, but went two-of-six from the free throw line in the closing moments.
“It’s like a closer in baseball you have to finish, and we didn’t finish well tonight,” Dambrot said.
In the final seconds, Bearden missed from the right arc. Junior Jarryn Skeete grabbed the big rebound and moved beyond the arc on the left side for a final shot that missed as time expired. The Zips came away with the victory, improving to 12-1 at home so far this season -- 5-0 in MAC play.
Both teams cooled off a bit from the field in the second half, UA shot 11-of-26 (42.3%), finishing the game at 46.3 percent (25-of-54). UB was only 11-of-24 (40.7%) and was at 45.9 percent (28-of-61) over the 40 minutes.
Both teams return to action on Tuesday, with the Zips hosting arch rival Kent State (7 p.m. ET) while Buffalo returns home to face MAC Western Division leading Toledo (7 p.m. ET).
-- The rebound battle ended even at 33-33.
-- There were a total of 20 turnovers in the game. UB made 11 of them and the Zips turned them into 15 points.
-- Other than UB’s dominance in the paint (42 points to 26) and UA’s bench scoring (30-2) the rest of the stat sheet was just about even.
-- The first place battle drew the attention of Akron native and Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, who attended the game with his son.