Tag Archives: MAC Tournament

Bracket Set as 2016 MAC Tournament Moves to Cleveland

Monday night’s first round matchups in the MAC tournament saw some upsets as No. 11 Miami (OH) and No. 12 Bowling Green moved on to the quarterfinals on March 10th at Quicken Loans Arena.

In Monday evening’s first match, No. 5 Kent State was matched up with No. 12 Bowling Green in a game that saw BGSU trailing at the half, 39-32. The Falcons opened the second half on a 11-0 run but the game ultimately ran close until Antown Lillard, who scored all 13 of his points in the second half, hit a jumpshot with 3:10 left to play to put the Falcons up for good. In a game that saw eight lead changes and five ties, the Falcons came out on top 70-60 over the Golden Flashes. Bowling Green moves on to face number four Central Michigan in the quarterfinals.

In the second upset of the night, No. 6 Ball State faced off with No. 11 Miami (OH). In a game that saw Miami lead by as many as 10, they never trailed in this game and were a force to be reckoned with in the paint. Eric Washington had 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists and hit the game-winning free throws as Miami advances to face number Buffalo.

No. 8 Eastern Michigan got it done against No. 9 Toledo, winning 69-60 in a pretty sloppy game by both sides. Eastern Michigan came away with 17 steals in the game, and that ultimately did Toledo in as they coughed the ball up on three straight possessions with under two minutes to go. A layup, a three-point play, and two free throws off of those steals iced the game for Eastern Michigan in the final moments. Eastern Michigan will face number one Akron in the next round.

In a close game throughout, No. 7 Northern Illinois defeated No. 10 Western Michigan 56-50 Monday night at the NIU Convocation Center. It took a three-point play by Tucker Haymond to tie it up for Western Michigan with under six minutes to go. Travon Baker hit two three-pointers on the next two possessions and the Huskies did not trail for the rest of the game. Western Michigan gave them a scare at the end, cutting the lead to two points, but Northern Illinois took advantage of the free throw opportunities, making seven of eight in the last 33 seconds. Northern Illinois goes on to face number two Ohio on Thursday.

The rest of the tournament will take place in Cleveland, Ohio at Quicken Loans Arena. Every team will be fighting for that top spot as the MAC is expected to produce one tournament bid. The quarterfinal schedule is listed below.

March 10th Quarterfinal

  1. No. 8 Eastern Michigan vs No. 1 Akron – 12 p.m. EST
  2. No. 12 Bowling Green vs No. 4 Central Michigan – Time TBA
  3. No. 7 Northern Illinois vs No. 2 Ohio – 6:30 p.m. EST
  4. No. 11 Miami vs No. 3 Buffalo – Time TBA

Akron Zips Rightfully Turn Down Postseason Bid

And just like that, the season has come to an end for the Akron Zips men’s basketball team.

There will be no postseason berth for the Akron Zips this season, ending a streak of seven straight seasons in which Akron has been in one tournament or another following the Mid-American Conference Tournament. The decision was not made by the tournaments themselves, however, as it ultimately came down to Akron head coach Keith Dambrot deciding that at this time it was better for his team to turn down any postseason offer.

“After evaluating our current position, I feel it is in the best interest of our players and our program not to play in the postseason this year,” Dambrot said in a release on the team’s website. “We have several players nursing injuries and have missed a lot of class time over the past few weeks. We would like to thank the postseason tournament committees for their interest in having us continue our season.”

Akron finished the season 21-14 after losing to Buffalo on Friday night in the MAC semifinals. Including Friday night’s loss, Akron had played four games in five nights and players were physically and mentally fatigued. Add in the injuries to guys like Pat Forsythe, who played in the tournament but was nursing turf toe, and Noah Robotham, who missed the final few games of the season with a torn ACL, and Dambrot made the right decision.

“At this point with group that is pretty beat up, we just played 35 games, I would have to think about that one,” Dambrot said Friday night. “Forsythe is not really healthy and the little guy (Antino Jackson) is beat up.”

Under Dambrot, the Zips are 2-8 in the postseason, with two wins coming in the National Invitational Tournament – one each in 2006 and 2008. The win in 2006 over Temple was the first postseason win for Akron as a Division I program. In the last six postseason appearances, the Zips have been eliminated in the first round. That includes three NCAA Tournaments, one NIT, one CBI and one CIT.

Dambrot knew Friday night that the Zips would have a chance to play in the postseason, but he wasn’t sure at that point what the decision would be on their end as to if they wanted to take the invitation or not.

“The competitor in me says yes and then the rational thinker says no in some regards,” Dambrot said. “The reason I say that is the purpose of playing is to improve for next year and also the competitiveness of it. It’s a tough question to answer right now because really all I care about is the NCAA Tournament.”

While the decision ultimately was up to Dambrot and he athletic administration, the head coach did say Friday night that he would consult his players before making any final decision on the matter.

“I am not a monarch or a dictator, I kind of view myself as the manager of their team. It’s their team,” Dambrot said. “I want them to understand what the big prize is but I also want them to understand the importance of wanting to play and how quickly it can be gone.”

The decision could not have been any easy one for Dambrot, who is a competitor. But at the end of the day, there were more factors than just playing and having a chance to continue the season that had to be weighed.

“It’s a dilemma. It’s a moral dilemma,” Dambrot said Friday night. “It’s not one of the more important moral dilemmas in our country but it’s a moral dilemma.”

While fans may want to see this team keep playing – and I am sure some of the players would like to play as well – Dambrot and Akron made the right call on this one.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Akron Zips Can’t Avoid Potholes in MAC Tournament Format

The road to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the Akron Zips was full of as may potholes as most of the roads around Northeast Ohio. On Friday night, one of those potholes was too big for the Zips to avoid, as they lost 68-59 to the Buffalo Bulls in the semifinals.

The road that began at home on Monday with a win over Northern Illinois and then continued to Cleveland where the Zips defeated Western Michigan and Kent State was a long and winding one that took its toll on the Zips.

“All these games wear and tear on your body,” Akron junior wing Jake Kretzer said. “We were ice batching after every game up in our hotel rooms, doing whatever we could do to get the win.”

Akron has always prided itself on being a program that doesn’t make excuses, but you simply couldn’t watch the game on Friday night and not notice how exhausted the players in the blue uniforms looked by the time it was all over. And who could blame them? As if playing three games in four nights coming in wasn’t enough, the Zips had played a knock-down, drag-out affair with Kent State the night before.

“If you watched that game last night, it hard to figure out who you would want to play. Those two teams slugged it out,” Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley said when asked if he would have rather played Akron or Kent State. “Maybe just knowing that Akron played three straight days and down the stretch we were able to get to the glass a lot, I think that benefitted us having some fresh legs.”

And then the part that isn’t as obvious to onlookers during the game would be that Akron had to be worn out in the mental phase of the game as well. After all, this was their fourth straight game this week in a win-or-go-home scenario.

“Mentally, it’s crazy,” Kretzer said. “We’ve been away from school all week. We’ve been thinking about winning this MAC tournament.”

Despite how tired Akron may have been, they knew that the man roaming their sideline wasn’t going to let them give up or give in, even when Buffalo started the second half on a 6-0 run to take a 39-32 lead after Akron had worked to get the deficit to just one at halftime. Head Coach Keith Dambrot expects more of his team and he demands such from the players.

“Coach kept our heads in it and kept saying ‘show toughness, I don’t want to see any tiredness out there’”, Kretzer said. “So we kept showing toughness and kept playing as hard as we can.”

What the night showed was how difficult it is for a team who doesn’t at least grab one of the top four seeds in the MAC’s tournament format that is now in its fourth season. By getting the No. 7 seed, Akron played Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and would had to play Saturday to win the tournament had it won on Friday. Meanwhile, Buffalo getting the No. 2 seed meant that the Bulls earned a bye straight into the semifinals along with No. 1 seed Central Michigan, whom they will face in Saturday’s championship game.

“We had played three games, they had played no games so they had a little more juice than we had,” Dambrot said. “Simple as that. You can sit there and analyze it all you want, they more energy than we had.”

Just how difficult is it for teams who play on Monday to get to the championship game? In the four years of the current format, only Eastern Michigan last season had made it as far as the semifinals before Akron did it this season. In fact, this year marks the third year in a row that the top two seeds will meet for the championship and the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The only exception to the rule was Ohio in 2012, who ironically won the tournament as the No. 3 seed and then went on to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. That Bobcats team is also the last MAC team to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

By winning three games, Akron became the lowest seed to make the tournament semifinals in the current format and reached the semifinals for the 10th straight season. Akron had played in seven consecutive tournament championship games before having that streak snapped last season.

Unfortunately for this year’s Zips, the potholes were just too large to miss on their way to championship game.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Akron Zips Letting It Fly From Deep in MAC Tournament

Live by the 3, die by the 3. So far in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Akron Zips have lived.

After making 14-of-30 from 3-point range in Monday’s opening round win over Northern Illinois at home, Akron moved on to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and kept the hot hands going. The Zips knocked down 12-of-29 3-pointers in a 58-45 win over defending MAC Tournament champion Western Michigan on Wednesday night.

“We just let our hair down and just shoot it,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “It’s a better way to go than playing nervous.”

The biggest of 3-pointers came with the Zips and Broncos tied with 13 minutes to play. Akron hit five out of six with the game tied 30-30 and turned a tie game into a 45-35 lead. Freshman point guard Antino Jackson got it started with a step back triple to make it 33-30. Kwan Cheatham followed that, with Jackson hitting another and then Reggie McAdams and Jake Kretzer found the bottom of the net with jumpers from outside.

“The main thing was confidence and coach told us to keep shooting the ball no matter what,” Jackson said. “He just told us to let it fly and we all believe in our ability to shoot the ball.”

Akron had shot 34.8% from downtown during the regular season, but the Zips are now shooting 44.1% (26-of-59) from downtown in the MAC Tournament. One reason for that is the unusual lack of depth Akron now has due to missing a few players.

“We have less guys so the string is a little longer for everybody,” Dambrot said. “If Reggie misses three or four, before we probably take him out and put somebody else in. Now we just leave him in there. If Kwan misses two or three, we leave him in there.”

One other reason for the improvement from 3-point range lately has to do with the way the Zips are playing. A team that is known as a one who pounds the ball inside and tries to score in the post, Akron has now focused on getting the big guys to pass back outside to the perimeter.

“We started putting some new plays in, but we still want to play through the post. We throw it in and let them kick it back out,” junior wing Reggie McAdams said. “We have so many good shooters on our team. When one guy is off a little bit, another guy is there to knock down a big shot when we need it.”

In the first two games of the MAC Tournament, Akron has knocked down those shots from deep when they needed to. Now they need to do it for three more games if they want to go the NCAA Tournament.

The question will be – how long can Akron live by the 3?

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Akron Zips Head to Cleveland Aiming To Win The MAC Tournament

The Mid-American Conference Tournament must have started, because the Akron Zips men’s basketball team is on its way to Cleveland.

This year, however, they had some work to do on their home floor first. Akron took care of business in an easy fashion on Monday night at the James A. Rhodes Arena, defeating Northern Illinois 76-52 in the first round of the MAC Tournament.

“I think this game was a harder game than any game we will play in Cleveland from the pressure perspective, from our program’s perspective,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “If you would have asked people in the league who would win the game, I think it would have been difficult to say. I think this game took a little pressure off us.”

If there was any pressure, you wouldn’t have been able to tell it from talking to Akron freshman point guard Antino Jackson. Jackson has started the last seven games with Noah Robotham first ill and then injured and the speedy guard ran the offense again Monday night, scoring 10 points and dishing out five assists.

“From the get go, we already had it in our mind that we were going to come out and win tonight and there wasn’t nothing to it,” Jackson said. “It started on defense. We wanted to win tonight.”

Akron will need more play like it got Monday night if the Zips want to make a run through the MAC Tournament and earn their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in seven years. The Zips will need to win four games in four days and five games in six days (counting Monday’s win) if they are going to hoist that championship trophy at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night.

Just having to play on Monday night was a strange thing for the Zips, who normally would have at least one bye in the tournament, if not multiple byes. But this season has not been a normal season for Dambrot and Akron. They have faced many challenges from the start and are still trying to come together as a unit.

“For me, mostly it’s just beating myself up because I don’t really like being in this position,” Dambrot said. “I am proud. I am used to having a great program. So I am used to getting that bye. But considering what’s happened to us, I have to be realistic enough to know we have hit a lot of obstacles.”

That doesn’t mean that Dambrot doesn’t have faith that his team will figure it out. After all, the Zips played in the MAC Tournament championship game every season from 2007 until 2013.

“I do believe this and I may be wrong – nobody wants to play us this time of the year,” Dambrot said.  “They would rather play some other people than us. We went seven years in a row to the championship game so we have been tournament tested. This group hasn’t been, but we’re still a tough out.”

That confidence has extended down to his players as well.

“We have to go thinking we’re going to win the whole thing,” Akron junior Reggie McAdams said. “We’re going to pack for five days. We have to believe.”

After all, this is still a proud program. One that knows how to win when the chips are down, especially in Cleveland. The seasons may change, but the program remains the same.

“We’re still the Akron Zips,” Dambrot said. “We’re still a tough out.”

One thing is for certain – if Dambrot says it in March, you should probably listen.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Photo Credit: Jeff Hartwell, University of Akron Athletics

Akron Zips Head To Cleveland For MAC Tournament Looking To Win It All

The Mid-American Conference Tournament must have started, because the Akron Zips are on their way to Cleveland.

This year, however, they had some work to do on their home floor first. Akron took care of business in an easy fashion on Monday night at the James A. Rhodes Arena, defeating Northern Illinois 76-52 in the first round of the MAC Tournament.

“I think this game was a harder game than any game we will play in Cleveland from the pressure perspective, from our program’s perspective,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “If you would have asked people in the league who would win the game, I think it would have been difficult to say. I think this game took a little pressure off us.”

If there was any pressure, you wouldn’t have been able to tell it from talking to Akron freshman point guard Antino Jackson. Jackson has started the last seven games with Noah Robotham first ill and then injured and the speedy guard ran the offense again Monday night, scoring 10 points and dishing out five assists.

“From the get go, we already had it in our mind that we were going to come out and win tonight and there wasn’t nothing to it,” Jackson said. “It started on defense. We wanted to win tonight.”

Akron will need more play like it got Monday night if the Zips want to make a run through the MAC Tournament and earn their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in seven years. The Zips will need to win four games in four days and five games in six days (counting Monday’s win) if they are going to hoist that championship trophy at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night.

Just having to play on Monday night was a strange thing for the Zips, who normally would have at least one bye in the tournament, if not multiple byes. But this season has not been a normal season for Dambrot and Akron. They have faced many challenges from the start and are still trying to come together as a unit.

“For me, mostly it’s just beating myself up because I don’t really like being in this position,” Dambrot said. “I am proud. I am used to having a great program. So I am used to getting that bye. But considering what’s happened to us, I have to be realistic enough to know we have hit a lot of obstacles.”

That doesn’t mean that Dambrot doesn’t have faith that his team will figure it out. After all, the Zips played in the MAC Tournament championship game every season from 2007 until 2013.

“I do believe this and I may be wrong – nobody wants to play us this time of the year,” Dambrot said.  “They would rather play some other people than us. We went seven years in a row to the championship game so we have been tournament tested. This group hasn’t been, but we’re still a tough out.”

That confidence has extended down to his players as well.

“We have to go thinking we’re going to win the whole thing,” Akron junior Reggie McAdams said. “We’re going to pack for five days. We have to believe.”

After all, this is still a proud program. One that knows how to win when the chips are down, especially in Cleveland. The seasons may change, but the program remains the same.

“We’re still the Akron Zips,” Dambrot said. “We’re still a tough out.”

One thing is for certain – if Dambrot says it in March, you should probably listen.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Akron Zips Women Punch Their Dance Card With Win Over Ball State

by Ryan Isley

The Akron Zips are going dancing. The only thing they are missing now is a date.

With their 79-68 win over Ball State on Saturday in the Mid-American Tournament championship game, the University of Akron’s women’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

After falling in last season’s championship game – the first one in program history – the Zips were bound and determined to be the last team standing this season as the confetti fell from the rafters of the Quicken Loans Arena in Akron.

“It was awesome, the best feeling ever,” Akron senior Hanna Luburgh said. “The best day of my life.”

Luburgh was named to the All-Tournament team along with fellow Akron seniors Kacie Cassell and Rachel Tecca, the tournament’s most valuable player.

Tecca saved her best performance of the tournament for when it mattered most, pacing the Zips with 30 points on 13-of-19 shooting. Tecca’s signature moments came at the end of the first half with Ball State within three at 33-30 and less than 2:30 to play. She went on a personal 8-0 run to end the half and send Akron to the locker room with an 11-point lead.

For Tecca, it was even sweeter to be able to contribute the way she did and help her tema win the MAC championship after all she has been through. She missed all but the first 10 games of here junior season with a knee injury and then missed almost the entire game against Bowling Green in this season’s regular season finale.

“I have been through a lot of injuries and just to persevere through all of those and make it to this moment today, it means the world to me,” Tecca said. “I never expected any of this.”

As for the disappointment of losing in the championship game last season, the Zips were able to use the experience of that game in preparation for this one.

“I was talking to Rachel and Hanna in warm-ups and said guys I am not as nervous as I was last year,” Cassell said. “I think it really helped to get it under or belts and to experience getting to the championship game.”

One thing the Akron players said consistently was how much they didn’t like the feeling of losing the championship game last season. That feeling is what motivated them to win it this season.

“We have been waiting for this all year,” Tecca said. “We had a bad taste in our mouth from last year losing to Central Michigan. We knew if we got here today we were going to be on a mission and we were going to win this thing.”

The women received tremendous support from everyone in the Akron community, which included some tweets from the men’s team, who lost in the MAC semifinals on Friday night.

“The men’s support is awesome plus everyone from Akron – the Rowdies,” Cassell said. “When I was here my first year, you could count the number of people in the stands and now there were so many people here. The support was amazing. I can’t be more thankful for everyone.”

While the players may have been more relaxed for this season’s title tilt, their head coach was nervous. But she wasn’t so much nervous about the game as she was because of what this game meant to her kids.

“I was just so nervous because I wanted it so bad for them,” head coach Jodi Kest said. “I wanted them to experience winning the championship, to do the celebration, to do the Monday announcement. Those memories are going to last for a lifetime.”

As for that date to the dance? It really doesn’t matter who it ends up being.

“No, not at all,” Luburgh said when asked if she cared who they play. “We’re going dancing.”

No matter who the date, one thing is for sure – Akron will be packing their dancing shoes.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Photo Courtesy: University of Akron Athletics

 

Akron Comes Up Big in Final Minutes, Beats Ohio to Advance in MAC Tournament

by Ryan Isley

Relax and enjoy.

That was the message from Akron head coach Keith Dambrot to his team entering the Mid-American Conference Tournament this week. While there wasn’t much time for relaxing on Wednesday night, the Zips sure did enjoy it, as they prevailed with a hard-fought 83-77 win over the Ohio Bobcats to advance to the tournament semifinals for the ninth consecutive season.

The reason Akron couldn’t really relax was because for the majority of the game, they were trailing the Bobcats. And no matter how hard the Zips tried, Ohio always seemed to have an answer for their run.

That was, until the final minutes.

Akron trailed from the time Ohio took a 13-12 lead just 5:03 into the game until they finally tied the game on a Quincy Diggs steal and layup with 5:50 to play in the game. Ohio quickly regained the lead, but Akron again found a way to tie it before finally taking the lead 68-67 on a Demetrius Treadwell free throw with 3:22 to play.

Once Akron got the lead, they refused to give it up.

On the next possession for the Bobcats, Carmelo Betancourt got a steal, leading to another Diggs layup and Diggs was fouled on the play. Diggs hit the free throw to complete the three-point play, giving the Zips a four-point lead, their largest of the night to that point.

With Akron leading by four, Akron came up with what just might have been the play of the night.

Diggs chased down Maurice Ndour from behind, back-tapping the ball to Betancourt, who then found Treadwell down the floor for a dunk and a six-point Akron lead. As Betancourt was releasing the pass, Diggs let go of a ferocious fist pump as he watched the play develop.

“I think that is when we finally got over the hill,” Diggs said. “That play just shows how much heart I have. I hate losing. I am glad it was converted into a dunk.”

After that play, it was all about hitting free throws for the Zips, or should have been. With Akron up 73-67 and Ohio trying to foul, they forgot to cover Betancourt. Akron’s point guard leaked down court and was wide open for a layup that gave the Zips an eight-point lead.

“They were in desperation,” Betancourt said. “They felt they were going to get a steal and I was wide open. Thank God they passed the ball to me.”

In the first game between these two teams this season in Athens, Akron kept taking the punches Ohio was throwing and eventually delivered a few themselves to win 83-80 in double overtime. This game had all of the same elements as that one did, looking like a heavyweight fight between two of the better programs in the conference.

“We were just taking their best punches,” Treadwell said. “They didn’t knock us out and we just wanted to come back and we wanted to keep punching to win the basketball game.”

One of the ways Akron was able to defend the punches was to settle down defensively in the final minutes. That included Betancourt, who has been an absolute pest on defense the last few weeks. While he officially ended up with just two steals, both of them were in crucial situations when his team needed him most.

“I think we just know what is at stake so we just have to lock down,” Betancourt said. “For us, we just have to lock down in the last couple of minutes because the games are always going to be close.”

Diggs scored 20 points to pace the Zips, while Treadwell scored 19 and grabbed 11 rebounds to notch his third straight double-double in MAC Tournament play dating back to last season when he was the tournament’s MVP.

For Akron and Ohio to face off in the quarterfinals seemed a bit strange, as the two teams have been the class of the conference over the past handful of seasons, winning each of the last five MAC Tournament championships between them. Akron won in 2009, 2011 and 2013 and Ohio won in 2010 and 2012. The two teams faced each other in the MAC Tournament championship game in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

“I told Jim before the game it is a shame we have to play so early in the tournament because we are used to playing at the end of the tournament,” Dambrot said.

The message from the head coach to the team about relaxing and enjoying came with a simple reason – they had worked hard all season to get where they are and this is the payoff.

“We put in all the hard work and now we should enjoy the fruits of that hard work,” Dambrot said. “That is to have fun and play in front of good crowds and whatever happens, happens.”

But don’t be fooled – while Dambrot says ‘whatever happens, happens,’ he is still looking to win the tournament and make another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

To do that, the Zips must relax and enjoy.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

 

Humbled and (Mostly) Healed, Akron Zips Will Start MAC Tournament Run Against Ohio

by Ryan Isley

When it comes to this year’s Akron Zips, Chumbawamba may have said it best with “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you’re never gonna keep me down.”

After a three-game losing streak, the Zips have bounced right back off the mat to win three games in a row, which resulted in them securing the No.4 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament and a bye into the quarterfinals. They will take the floor on Thursday evening in Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena against one of the teams who beat them in that streak, when they take on the Ohio for the third time this season.

The Bobcats earned their berth into the quarterfinals with a 63-55 win over Miami on Wednesday in a game that featured the last two teams to beat Akron this season.

The two teams have played twice this season with Akron taking the first game in a thrilling two-overtime 83-80 win in Athens and Ohio returning the favor with a complete manhandling of the Zips 66-50 in Akron just a few weeks ago.

One of the biggest stories during that three-game losing streak for Akron was their depth, as the team had been depleted by injury, illness and suspension.

Jake Kretzer was out after suffering a concussion against Buffalo on February 19, in the game prior to Ohio (first game of the losing streak), Reggie McAdams was out after being diagnosed with mononucleosis before the win against Northern Illinois on February 15 and Nick Harney missed two of the three losses while serving the last of a four-game suspension and returned in the loss to Miami.

Those three players had combined to score 30 points in the win at Ohio, leaving a big hole for the Zips.

The loss of Kretzer, McAdams and Harney only added to the losses the Zips had coming into the season, making this a completely different basketball team than took the floor for Dambrot last season.

“We lost (Alex) Abreu, (Zeke) Marshall, (Chauncey) Gilliam, (Brian) Walsh, Harney, McAdams and Kretzer. That’s (seven) of our top (eight) guys from last year,” Dambrot said, while also acknowledging that Akron added Quincy Diggs back this season. “The only one who was in the rotation last year was (Demetrius) Treadwell.”

But as he usually does, Dambrot tried to find the silver lining in the situation, as Akron was able to use those games to get other players ready for the time that really matters – the MAC Tournament.

“We were 9-3 and we lost Harney, Jake and McAdams and we weren’t any good,” Dambrot said. “But when you can use those younger kids in smaller intervals, now you have built your team to the point that now you become a force if those guys can come back and play at a reasonably high level. We’ve improved Nyles (Evans), we’ve improved Deji (Ibitayo), we’ve improved Big Dog (Isaiah Johnson), we’ve improved Kwan Cheatham, Melo (Carmelo Betancourt) has gotten better.”

Akron has reacquired the services of Harney and McAdams over the past couple of weeks, while Kretzer is questionable for Thursday’s game against Ohio after missing the past five contests.

Even as the role players have improved, Dambrot knows that his team will only go as far as his top three players take them. When Treadwell, Diggs and Harney all score in double figures in conference games this season, the Zips are 5-1, and are 7-2 when all three score at least eight points each.

“When Harney, Q and Treadwell play well, we can play with anybody in this league. And when they don’t, we have issues. It’s pretty evident,” Dambrot said. “Take Q out of the equation, even. Tree’s gonna do what he does every night and when Harney (plays well), normally we have a good chance to win. He was going through that stretch before the suspension where he was playing well and we were playing well and that derailed us.”

In the four games leading up to the suspension, Harney had averaged 13 points and five rebounds per game in 25.3 minutes per game and had scored in double digits in all four, the only time this season he has had four straight games of at least 10 points.

The one word that has floated around in the past week about this team and the experiences they have endured this season is humbled. Dambrot first mentioned it after their win against Buffalo last Tuesday night, a game Akron entered with an 18-11 record.

“Tree and I have talked a lot and this has been a humbling experience for us,” Dambrot said. “It’s kind of funny – when you have your expectation level set where we have it, when you’re 18-11 you feel humbled. There are a lot of people who would love to be 18-11 but for us we are humbled that we were 10-6 in the league and we felt miserable, where most people would be happy with that.”

The reason Akron may have felt miserable and humbled is that for each of the eight seasons leading up to this one, the Zips had won at least 20 games – a mark they reached for the ninth consecutive season with their 58-54 win over Kent State last Friday. In fact, Akron has put at least 22 marks in the win column in each of the last eight seasons before this one, one of only six teams around the country to do so. The company they keep in that group is quite impressive, as only Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Ohio State and Pittsburgh could claim that distinction. Two wins in the MAC Tournament – the game against Ohio and then the semifinals – would give them yet another 22+ win season.

Treadwell – a First-Team All-MAC selection this season and last season’s MAC Tournament MVP – echoed his coach’s sentiments after that Kent State win, just three nights after Dambrot’s comments.

“Coach D and I have been talking a lot and this adversity has been real humbling because the last couple years came real easy for us during the regular season, winning back-to-back regular season championships,” Treadwell said. “For us to go through the struggles this year, it couldn’t have done anything but make us stronger as a team and open our eyes that we have to work a little bit harder.”

Now humbled and on the mend, the Zips hope the adversity they have fought through brings them a prize at the end – back-to-back MAC Tournament championships and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

If that happens, the slice of humble pie they have been served will be a taste they savor.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Zips Start Healing Fractured Emotions by Winning MAC Tournament

by Ryan Isley

It may have been more stressful than it seemed just a few weeks ago, but the Akron Zips are heading to the NCAA Tournament as they slipped on their dancing shoes Saturday night in Cleveland by winning the Mid-American Conference championship game.

As the game’s final minutes were winding down and it was evident that the Zips were going to finish off what some would call an incredible weekend, one could not help but look at head coach Keith Dambrot to see his reaction. After stating multiple times this week that his teams was “emotionally fractured” after the arrest of point guard Alex Abreu, Dambrot finally let himself smile as he watched what he has called the “best team as far as toughness” he has ever had at Akron finish off their 65-46 win over Ohio University.

It was the seventh season in a row that Dambrot led his team to the MAC championship game and the third time his team has won and been able to grab the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Of the three championships the Zips have won under Dambrot, this one ranked right at the top.

“To do what we did under the circumstances, you can’t even compare it,” Dambrot said. “It just is an unbelievable tribute to our players. It was a total team effort from our trainer to our strength coach to our athletic director to our sports psychologist, our secretary. It was unreal how resilient everybody in the program was.”

When the Zips lost Abreu on March 7th, people started thinking that Akron would not see the MAC championship game because after all, Abreu was the engine that made the machine run for the regular season MAC champions. But one of the things I thought back on was something Dambrot said a few weeks prior when I asked him how he was able to sustain success with different groups of players.

“Mostly, we have better players than most of the teams in this league,” Dambrot said. “And I mean collective – we might not have the best five, but we have the best 11. When you have the best players, that allows you to win.”

Nobody would have blamed the Zips for mentally packing it in after the last couple of weeks. They lost at Buffalo to snap the nation’s longest winning streak, Abreu was arrested and then they lost their regular season finale the next night at home to archrival Kent State. Not to mention that to win the MAC Tournament, they would have to go through Kent State and Ohio without their starting point guard. Dambrot refused to allow them to give up, however, even putting his real emotions aside for the good of the team.

“I am not the most reserved human being when it comes to basketball but I knew I had to change my outer shell if we were going to win,” Dambrot said. “I had to give more valentines. So that’s what I tried to do – try to give more valentines, a little more love. I have been taught that my absolute obligation is always to my team so I can’t falter on them now emotionally. If I am emotionally cracked, they have no chance.”

After the game on Saturday, center Zeke Marshall – the only four-year senior on Akron’s team – sat in the media room with the net hanging around his neck. He was asked about the job Dambrot has done over these past couple weeks trying to overcome adversity and prepare for the MAC Tournament.

“Let’s just say that after losing the guy that has run our offense on the court, I really don’t know a lot of coaches that can do that,” Marshall said. “We lost a crucial part of our working car and for him to check out his game plan and talk to his coaches and find alternatives to keep the car still rolling, that’s phenomenal.”

That is probably the best way to put it – phenomenal. And that doesn’t just apply to Dambrot; it applies to his players as well. Collectively, the team and their coaches put everything behind them and did what they do, which is play good basketball. Now it is on to the NCAA Tournament, where Marshall has one thing in mind.

“I am trying to win the NCAA Tournament,” Marshall said.

As his coach says, you can’t win it if you don’t get in it. And you never know – this team just might make some noise over the next few weeks.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]