There was no loss of focus for the University of Akron Thursday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arean.
The Zips defeated the Eastern Michigan Eagles 79-62 in the second round of the Mid-American Conference tournament. The number one seed in this year’s tournament were lead by Senior Big Man, Isiah Johnson, who had 24 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 3 Blocks.
MAC Coach of the year, Keith Dambrot knew that the Eagles were not going to be a pushover, despite thier 7-14 conference record.
“Eastern Michigan presents a lot of problems. They’ve got a lot of explosive-type players, they’re athletic, and you know, we missed some around the rim early in the game, I thought. Which I was proud of the fact that we rallied ourselves after a rough start really.”
The first game of the day started out as a defensive battle, with both teams going scoreless for the first two minutes of action. James Thompson broke the drought, and then proceeded to score the first 11 points for the Eagles. The Junior out of Baton Rouge led a fast start by Eastern Michigan that had the Zips reeling in the opening minutes for the game.
Just as important as Thompson’s scoring, was his skill on the glass. The Eagles were fueled by his rebounding on both ends of the court. With a double-double, the Second team All-MAC selection finished the game with 18 points and 16 boards.
But it wasn’t enough to help the Eagles 2-3 zone to overcome Thompson and the rest of the Zips. Once guards Noah Robotham and Antonio Jackson starting connecting from the behind the three point arc, it just became too much for one of the better defensive teams in the MAC. Robotham was the second leading scorer for the Zips with 19 points.
While most of the attention has been on Johnson, Coach Dambrot was quick to point out the great play of Robotham, and his collegues in the the Akron back court.
“Nobody’s asked me the question, but our point guard play is stellar right now, that guy (Robotham) is playing unbelievable basketball. He’s playing as good as any point guard in America for winning games,” Dambrot said unprompted.
Eastern Michigan made things difficult for the Zips, even into the final minutes of the game, cutting the Akron’s lead to three points with only four minutes to go in the game. Eagles coach, Rob Murphy praised both team’s play.
“I Thought our guys competed at a high level from start to finish, but I thought our turnovers got the best of us and their second-chance opportunities really hurt us. So give a lot of credit to Akron. They’re a very good basketball team for a reason and they were able to make the necessary plays throughout the second half to win the basketball game,” explained Murphy.
The game stayed tight until a disastrous stretch for the Eagles where Akron scored seven points in 11 seconds. Coach Murphy knew the 7-0 run would do Eastern Michigan’s upset hopes.
“Anytime you allow a team to go on a 7 point off of your mistakes, self inflicted, that’s painful. We were down as much as I believe 11 and to cut it to 4 with the ball to have a point-blank layup to cut it to 2. If you make that layup, the game is a lot different, but when you miss that layup, it deflates you. Then if you allow a team to score it double deflates you. And that’s what happened to us, they made the plays that we didn’t and that’s why they’re the winners and I give them all the credit for that.”
Coach Dambrot, and the Zips move on to the semi finals of the MAC tournament, played Friday at Quicken Loans Arena.