Junior guard Antino Jackson led all-scorers with 23 points, and three more Zips reached double figures. Sophomore guard Josh Williams recorded 18 points, while senior center Isaiah Johnson and junior guard Noah Robotham contributed 12 and 11 points, respectively.
For the second . . .
UC Irvine shot 47.4 percent from the floor (27-of-57), including a 43.8 percent effort from downtown (7-of-16) and 82.6 percent showing from the free throw line (19-of-23).
The Anteaters (5-9) also had four players finish with double-digits scoring, led by Jaron Martin's 20-point performance. The seven-footer, Ioannis Dimakopoulos, chipped in 15 points, while Eyassu Worku and Brad Greene notched 10 points each.
UC Irvine controlled the glass, outrebounding the Zips 37-27, but Akron won the turnover battle, committing only seven giveaways compared to the Anteaters 13 turnovers.
The Zips sharpshooting started early, as Robotham buried Akron's first basket from downtown and senior forward Kwan Cheatham, Jr. followed with a trifecta. Jackson added a midrange jumper, and junior guard Jimond Ivey drained the Zips third 3-pointer for an 11-5 lead in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the game.
However, the game slowed down for the Zips when the Anteaters held Akron scoreless for four minutes. During that span, UC Irvine used a 9-0 run to build a 12-point, 32-20 advantage with 7:37 to play in the first half.
Cheatham silenced the run and reduced the lead to single digits after knocking down a 3-pointer from the wing. Freshman center Michael Hughes followed with two points in the paint, cutting the Anteater lead to seven points at the 6:46 mark, 32-25.
UC Irvine pushed the lead back to 11 points, 36-25, but in the final minutes of the first half, Akron erased the deficit and took a two-point lead, 42-40, into halftime.
Johnson started the 17-5 run with a pair of free throws and Jackson buried a triple to bring the Zips within six points, 36-30, with 3:51 remaining. In the closing minutes, Williams hit back-to-back triples to tie game at 38 apiece with 1:29 remaining, UC Irvine broke the stalemate, but Williams ended the half with a 3-pointer to give the Zips a 42-40 halftime lead.
Jackson set the tone for the second half, opening the final 20 minutes with a 3-pointer before blowing by a defender for a lay-in. Robotham and Williams joined in on the action with back-to-back triples, and Jackson lifted an alley-oop pass to redshirt freshman Emmanuel Olojakpoke, who finished the play at the rim.
Over the first five minutes of the period, the Zips outscored the Anteaters 14-4 for an early 10-point advantage, 56-46. Akron extended the lead to as many as 11 points, 72-61, with five minutes remaining in the game.
UC Irvine made one final push to regain the lead with a second 9-0 run, cutting the Zips' lead to two points with two minutes left to play. The game remained close until Williams hit a big 3-pointer from the corner and Jackson followed with a pair of free throws for an 81-74 lead with 1:11 left. Akron closed out the final minute, making 7-of-8 free throws for the eight-point win.
The Zips will play Maryland Eastern Shore in Thursday's Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Championship game. The Hawks defeated UTEP, 71-66, to advance to the finale, which is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET at the Don Haskins Center.
(Courtesy of UA Athletics)