AKRON, OHIO – Senior Kwan Cheatham scored a career high 31 points, going 7-of-13 from three-point range, as the Akron Zips withstood a fierce challenge from the Buffalo Bulls to pick up a 91-90 victory Saturday night befoare a near capacity crowd of 4,884 at Rhodes Arena.
With the victory, Akron (18-3, 8-0) remains the only undefeated team in Mid-American Conference play as the MAC schedule nears the halfway mark. In addition, UA collected its 11th consecutive victory overall and 28th straight at home -- the third longest current home winning skein in Division I.
“This one was . . .
Along with Cheatham, three other Zips scored in double digits. Senior Isaiah Johnson had 27 points and 10 rebounds. Junior Antino Jackson had 12 and three assists while sophomore Josh Williams came off the bench to score 12.
Buffalo (9-12,3-5) incurred its fourth loss in the last six-games. The last two in heartbreaking fashion as UB also lost by one point at Miami on Tuesday night, 75-74.
“It was a tough game and we needed this one bad,” UB head man Nate Oats said. “We needed one stop at the end and we fouled them with one second, two seconds to go. Cheatham was unreal though.”
Senior Blake Hamilton led all scorers in the game with 33 points, going 13-of-16 from the field. Senior Willie Conner added 19 with two blocked shots. CJ Massinburg had 14 and five rebounds. Nick Perkins also scored 14 coming off the bench.
It was their first meeting since the Bulls beat the Zips in the MAC Champioship Game last March at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, and both teams started strongly.
UB hit four of its first six shots from the floor, building a 12-5 lead at the 15:49 mark on two free throws by Conner.
After UA tied the score, 14-14, on a layup by Johnson, the Bulls scored nine of the next 12 points to open their largest lead of the half, 25-17 when Hamilton made a three from the right arc. He netted 13 points in the opening period.
The Zips responded with 10 unanswered points of their own to regain a 27-25 lead on a conventional three-point play by Johnson.
It was part of a stretch when the home team outscored the visitors 20-2 to open their largest lead of the half, 37-27, when Cheatham scored on a three from the top of the key.
The Bulls then showed their tenacity, coming back numerous times during the contest as they gnawed away at their deficit, closing to within three at halftime 43-40.
It was a well-played opening 20 minutes, with UB shooting over 50 percent from the field (15-of-29), while UA was 12-of-15 from the free throw line and had a decisive 21-13 rebounding edge.
At the start of the second half, the Bulls regained the lead, 48-47, on a three from the left arc by Perkins. After UA regained the advantage on a pair of Cheatham buckets, the game was tight with netiher team gaining much of an advantage.
Midway through the second half with the game tied at 61-61, the Zips started bombing away from three-point range. Their next five baskets came from beyond the arc (two by Williams and then three straight by Cheatham) to open a nine-point lead 76-67 with 7:06 remaining. Before Saturday, Cheatham’s career high mark was 21 last February against Ohio.
When asked about his senior’s performance, Dambrot said “The guy (Kwan) has always had great ability, and you couple that with a lot of time in the gym. You gain confidence, and he has gained that.”
Just like in the first half, the Bulls climbed back into the game. Slowly and steadily they closed to within two points, 83-81, at the 2:20 mark. Again it was Hamilton as he scored on a three from the right-arc as he had 20 points in the final 20 minutes.
The Zips had a chance to put the game out of reach. However, they faltered on free throws, especially Johnson, who missed five-of-six from the charity stripe down the stretch.
Buffalo would weather every Akron surge but could not get the lead after intermission. They closed to within one on three occasions in the last minute before tying the game 90-90 on a three by Hamilton, this one from the top of the circle with 28.7 seconds remaining.
On UA’s final offensive possession, Johnson was fouled by David Khadiri with 2.3 seconds remaining. Khadiri was one of three UB players who would foul out over the final three minutes of the contest.
Johnson missed the first free throw but easily made the second, and that proved to be the winning margin. The Bulls inbounded the ball, getting it past half-court, but their final attempt was after the buzzer and fell short.
Both teams stepped up their shooting in the second half, with UA going 1-of-26 (53.8%) and finishing the game just below 50 percent at 47.4 (27-of-57). The Bulls were just as hot, going 18-of-33 in the second period (54.5%) and over the 40 minutes were at 53.2% (33-of-62).
When asked about going forward after the two tough losses, Oats said “If we get that kind of effort like we did tonight, we will get this thing turned around.”
The Zips won the battle of the boards, 36-29. However, they went 26-of-40 from the free throw line (14-of-25) in the second half while benefitting from both the bonus and the two-shot penalty. There were only 15 turnovers combined between the two teams.
UA starts a two-game road trip at Northern Illinois Tuesday, while Buffalo heads home to face Central Michigan and its high scoring star Marcus Keene.