Akron (6-3) saw its seven game home winning streak, dating back to last season, come to an end as Middle Tennessee State (5-4) used a 16-2 run in the first half to seize the lead., Trailing by a single point late, UA had a chance to pull out the victory, but it could not get a final shot off before the final buzzer sounded.
“We had two open threes and two free throws (in the final moments).” Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said. “You have got to make your free throws, and you have to make your open threes…If we made any of those plays, we probably win.”
The Blue Raiders were paced by sophomore Reggie Upshaw Jr. He led all scorers in the game with 17 points, coming off the bench and adding eight rebounds to his line. Senior Jacquez Rozier contributed 13 with four rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots. Freshman Edward Simpson had 10 coming off the bench as well.
“Those three guys (Upshaw, Simpson, and freshman Jacob Ivory, who scored nine points) really played well.” MTSU head coach Kermit Davis said. “Reggie was able to do better rebounding the basketball and that was key for us.”
UA opened game strong, scoring the first eight points while not allowing MTSU to score on its first four possessions. When the Blue Raiders finally dented the scorebook, they went on a 10-2 spree to tie the game 10-10 at the 13:38 mark on a conventional three-point play by Upshaw, who scored nine points in the opening half.
The Zips used a 10-5 spurt to push the lead back out to 20-15 at the 8:35 mark on a free throw by Cheatham.
MTSU then held the Zips without a point for well over four minutes while going on a 16-2 run to take the lead for good. The visitors largest lead was nine points on two occasions, the last being 36-27 at the 1:04 mark on a driving layup by Ivory. They went into halftime with a five point advantage over Akron at 37-32.
The Blue Raiders built their lead thanks to shooting 56.5% from the field (13-of-23). Seven of those baskets were either layups or shots close to the rim.
The Zips shot 8-of-19 from the floor (42.1%), although they held a14-11 rebounding edge. The big stats that favored MTSU were a 26-12 lead in bench scoring and 14-10 edge on paint points.
The Zips closed their deficit to one 41-40 at the start of the second half when Cheatham connected on a three from the left arc. No sooner had the lead shrunk, MTSU pushed the lead back out to eight, 48-40, at the 14:10 mark when sophomore Joshua Phillips completed a give-and-go play with a layup.
The lead grew to 10, the largest of the game, with 5:06 remaining on a pair of free throws by Ivory.
For the rest of the game, the Zips picked and pounded their way back. The catalyst to their final push was Jackson. The freshman stepped up his game when fellow frosh Noah Robotham got in early foul trouble. He finishing the contest with just two points but had four assists and two steals.
Jackson hit a pull-up jumper from the foul line and then a three from the right arc. Those five points sparked an 11-2 run that enabled UA to tie the game, 61-61, with 2:08 remaining on a pair of free throws by Forsythe
MTSU got its final point of the game at the 1:45 mark on a free throw by Rozier.
The Zips had their chances to snatch victory. However, Cheatham was off on a pair of threes and Forsyth missed a pair of free throws at the 1:26 mark.
After Rozier missed the front end of a one-and one free throw with 11.3 seconds remaining, UA called a time out. The ball was inbounded to Robotham, but good MTSU defense forced him way outside. When they finally got the ball to Forsythe at the foul line the clock hit triple zeroes
Middle Tennessee picked up its sixth win in the last seven meetings.
UA shot 55 percent from the field over the 40 minutes (22-of-40), going 9-of-17 in the second half. However hitting just 6-of-11 from the free throw line in the second period kept Akron from pulling away to a comfortable lead.
The Zips settled for threes and jump shots in the second half going just 11-of-28 (39.3%) from the floor in the period and only 40.4 percent for the game (19-of-47) UA won the rebound battle 28-26, but MTSU’s dominance in the paint (26-20) and in bench scoring (38-21) proved to be the difference.
The Zips return to action on Tuesday night as they travel to North Dakota State to battle the Bison out of the Summit League.