AKRON, OHIO – The Akron Zips extended their winning streak at Rhodes Arena to 25 games, second longest in the 33-plus year history of the facility, Friday night as they fought off a challenge from the Western Michigan Broncos to post a 66-59 victory.
Senior Kwan Cheatham broke open . . .
“We have been grinding through practices and games (since winning the Don Haskins Tournament in El Paso). We haven’t been great,” Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said. “They (WMU) controlled the tempo and it became a battle. We are not playing our best basketball, but we were good enough to win”
Cheatham finished the game with 14 points and seven rebounds, while fellow senior Isaiah Johnson led UA with 16 points and 13 boards. Junior Jimond Ivey had 13 with four caroms and a steal.
Western Michigan (4-10, 0-2) went down to its fourth loss in the last five games. The Broncos were paced by junior Thomas Wilder, who led all scorers in the contest with 17 points, adding four rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Senior Tucker Haymond provided 13 points with four helpers and freshman Reggie Jones had 11 points.
“It was a great ball game.” WMU head man Steve Hawkins said. “They (Akron) made a couple of plays right at the end. In order to win at Akron, you have to play a complete game you cannot make mistakes during the game,”
The contest was close throughout.
In the first half, neither team had more than a four-point lead. There were seven ties and seven lead changes. With the Broncos holding 32-30 lead in the final minute of the period, Cheatham connected on a three from the left corner with :00.2 remaining to send the teams into halftime tied 32-32.
WMU shot 46.4% in the first half (13-of-28), while UA was also respectable from the floor, going 14-of-31 (45.2%). The rebound battle was even at 16-16. One stat that would be an omen in the second half was the Zips going 4-of-15 from beyond the arc.
Western Michigan opened up its largest lead of the contest, 44-38, at the 14:50 mark of the second period when Haymond connected on a three from the left arc. The Broncos matched that advantage 48-42 at the 12;22 mark on a layup from sophomore Seth Dugan.
UA responded with an 11-0 run to take a five-point advantage 53-48 when Ivey made a three from the left arc with 7:45 remaining. However, the Broncos would not go away and regained the advantage, 54-53. Again, it was Haymond with a three from the left arc.
It would be WMU’s last lead of the game. UA jumped back in front and led 58-54 at the 4:27 mark when junior Noah Robotham made a three from the top of the key. Again the Broncos fought back on baskets by Wilder and Brandon Johnson to tie the game 58-58 with 1:28 remaining.
After Cheatham gave UA the lead for good with his three, he came down and snagged the rebound of Jones’ missed three form the top of the circle. Cheaham was fouled by Brandon Johnson, (his fifth) and sealed the victory with a pair of free throws at the other end.
Foul shots by Isaiah Johnson, who finished just one point shy of 1,000 for his career, and Robotham gave the Zips their fifth consecutive win over WMU.
There were two main factors in the Broncos loss. The first was their inability to extend the lead out beyond six points in the second half. The second was going 5-of-13 from the free throw line overall, including five straight in the closing moments.
When asked about the keys to the game from the visitors end, Hawkins said “It would have been nice to get a little distance, getting it up to double digits, you never know what would have happened.”
UA survived an evening when it went just 7-of-29 from the three-point line (3-of-14 in the second half) but finished the game at 44.6 percenet from the floor (25-of-56) and narrowly won the rebound battle, 36-33. The Broncos went 42.1 percent from the floor over the 40 minutes (24-of-57)
After Akron’s opening two games in MAC play, Dambrot said “The unique thing about this league is that every team is a little bit different and present different challenges.”
NEXT: Akron heads on the road for its next two games, the first being Tuesday night at Central Michigan. Western Michigan returns home to face Toledo at University Arena.