By EVAN MEYER
CLEVELAND – The Akron Zips used an 18-3 run midway through the second half to break open a close game with the Western Michigan Broncos en route to a 58-45 victory in the second round of the 2015 Mid-American Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Akron (20-13), the seventh seed in the tournament, advanced to the third round on Thursday night when it will face the third-seeded Kent State Golden Flashes. The arch-rivals split their two games in the regular season.
“It was a terrific effort by our guys, especially at the defensive end.” UA head coach Keith Dambrot said. “We knew the game would be won or lost at the three-point line. We held them to two. That is the kind of effort we need to win.”
Junior Reggie McAdams led UA with 15 points coming off the bench, while sophomore Kwan Cheatham had 11 and 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Antino Jackson had 10 points with four boards.
Western Michigan (20-13) the six seed and defending MAC Tournament champions, saw its two-game winning streak come to an end while losing to UA for the third time this season.
“It was a really hard fought game,” Broncos head man Steve Hawkins said. “We shot the ball poorly. That is what the game came down to. Give full credit to Akron.”
Freshman guard Thomas Wilder (12 points) was the only WMU player in double figures.
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WMU finally regrouped and closed to within two on a fadeaway jumper by Wilder.
UA then bumped it’s advantage back out to nine, 27-20, on a putback basket by McAdams who scored nine points in the opening 20 minutes, and Akron went into halftime with a seven-point advantage 27-20.
In the opening half, neither team shot the ball well as UA went 9-of-22 from the field (40.9%) while WMU was only 6-of-29 from the floor (20.7%). The Broncos held a narrow 20-18 rebounding edge, with nine coming from the offensive side. What kept the Broncos within striking distance was going six-of-seven from the free throw line, while UA was just three-of-seven.
WMU started the second half on a 10-3 run to tie the game 30-30 with 14:26 remaining on two free throws by David Brown who tallied nine points with five rebounds and three steals.
A key moment came with 14:06 remaining. Disputing an offensive foul call on Johnson, Dambrot was called for a technical foul. That gave The Broncos had a chance to take the lead for the first time since the opening basket of the game. They did not as Brown missed both technical free throws and WMU failed to score on the following possession.
Dambrot said after the game it was his first technical in four years and then used the line from the late Casey Stengel saying, you can look it up.
The Zips put the game away using their ability to shoot the three and their stifiling defense.
With the score at 33-32 in UA’s favor after a driving layup by the Broncos Tucker Haymond, the Akron went on an 18-3 run, connecting on four baskets from beyond the arc -- one each from Cheatham, Antino Jackson, McAdams, and junior Jake Kretzer.
The three-point barrage was part of a stretch that saw them make five field goals from that range.
When asked about that stretch, McAdams said “We took their best punch and punched right back.”
When the run ended, UA had a 51-40 advantage with 2:37 remaining. The Zips largest lead came in the final moments, 58-43, on a pair of free throws by senior Deji Ibitayo before winning by 13.
The victory game UA its 20th win of the season, marking the tenth consecutive season the program has reached that plateau. Only nine schools in all of Division I have accomplished are currently in that club.
Akron held WMU to just 25.9 percent from the field over the 40 minutes (14-of-54), including just 2-of-14 from three-point range. The defense limited Brown to just nine points and did not let Western’s guards dictate play.
UA only shot 37.8 percent for the game (17-of-45). However, it went 12-of-29 from beyond the arc. The Zips won the rebound battle, 39-32, but they turned the ball over 11 times, leading to 16 Broncos points.
When it takes the court Thursday, Akron will be playing its fourth game in six days. The stretch started with a dramatic loss to arch-rival Kent State last Friday. That game, a 79-77 decision, went to KSU following a dramatic last second basket by the Flashes. The win helped Kent State solidify a No. 3 seed and bye to the quarterfinals. Thursday’s UA-KSU winner will advance to meet No. 2 seed Buffalo in a Friday semi-final.