Wednesday night's matchup between No. 24 Akron (23-4, 13-0) and Ohio (20-8, 11-2) was supposed to be the "game of the year" for the Mid-American Conference and it certainly was. Before a crowd of 11,109 in the Convention Center in Athens, Ohio the two teams battled it out for 40 minutes and then some.
In a similar scene to their Feb. 2nd matchup in Akron, the Zips battled back from an early deficit to take the win in 88-81 overtime. With the victory over Ohio, Akron improves their nation leading winning streak to 19 games. They also are in full control of their own destiny as the season winds down. They're in sole possession of first place in the MAC.
Akron came out swinging, taking an early 9-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game. Ohio shot miserably until forward Reggie Keely was able to put some points on the board at the 17:30 mark. It sparked a fire in the 'Cats guts and they quickly took control of the game. During a 10 minute span Ohio outscored Akron 26-4 and went into halftime with a 41-30 lead.
But the Zips are no strangers to an early deficit. In the James A. Rhodes Arena on Feb. 2nd Ohio lead by as many as 13 points but eventually fell to the Zips 86-72. Much like in that game, Akron came out playing with a new purpose in the second half senior.point guard Alex Abreu and freshman forward Jake Kretzer lit Ohio up. Abreu finished the game with 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Kretzer shot a perfect from the field including 5-for-5 from three point range and finished the game with 19 points.
Ohio couldn't hit a shot to start the second half. At one point in the half they were connecting on just 11 percent of their shots. It allowed Akron to retake the elad and command of the game at the 15:36 mark on a go-ahead 3 from Kretzer. But behind the leadership of star senior point guard D.J. Cooper and the fierce play of senior guard Walter Offutt Ohio clawed their way back into the game.
Midway through the second half Ohio's offense clicked. Cooper, who finished with a game high 26 points, was draining 3's from all over. Offutt's tough play proved invaluable for the 'Cats as he came up with crucial play after crucial play in the final minutes of a close game. he finished with a game high 10 rebounds and also added 15 points to the cause. As the final minutes ticked down, Akron held a narrow lead over Ohio 68-65. But Offutt drained a 3 to tie the game up with 3:05 left.
With 43 seconds left in the game Zips big man Zeke Marshall fouled out. It proved costly for the Zips. With 0.7 seconds left on the clock and Akron up 72-70 Ohio junior forward Jon Smith snagged an offensive rebound and slammed it in to send the game into overtime. Had Marshall, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, still been in the game, Smith likely wouldn't have been able to snag that board considering Marshall had dominated Ohio's big men for most of the second half.
But Akron took over in overtime. Ohio reverted to the sloppy offense that plagued them early in both half's and behind Demetrius Treadwell's four points in overtime the Zips took an early lead. It proved too much for Ohio to overcome and Akron held on to win 88-81 Akron is now in full control of their destiny heading into the final stretch of the season.
With only three regular season games left against Buffalo, Miami and Kent State the Zips are favored to finish MAC play undefeated and are the favorites to win the MAC Tournament. Ohio on the other hand has dropped two games in a row and has failed to beat a big-time opponent all season. They've dropped both regular season games to Akron and have failed to show up when tested on the road. With this loss it's looking like last years bell of the ball will be left out in the cold come mid-March this year.