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Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Akron Zips Final: Zips can't complete comeback, fall by one point

An ugly first half and poor shooting doomed the Zips in their first home loss of the season.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Well, you can't say that Akron didn't have an opportunity to win the game in the final seconds.

Down 62-61 with 1:45 on the clock, Akron had the ball and was poised to take the lead after storming all the way back from being down ten just a few minutes earlier. Kwan Cheatham bricked a bad three, but luckily Middle Tennessee turned the ball over. Pat Forsythe was fouled but missed both free throws. After yet another turnover, Akron missed two open threes, one from Jake Kretzer and the other from Cheatham.

By this point you would think Akron would have capitalized on at least one possession. Well, Akron was gifted another opportunity after Middle Tennessee's Jacquez Rozier missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Zips had the ball, still down one with eleven seconds left.

They never even got a shot off.

Out of a timeout, the ball was swung to Kretzer on the wing who had an open look. He passed that up, getting the ball to Pat Forsythe in the middle of the Middle Tennessee defense. Forsythe then passed it back to Noah Robotham who then, with just two seconds on the clock, went back into Forsythe. Forsythe made a post move, but couldn't get the shot off on time.

Keith Dambrot said in the post-game that with "two open threes and two free throws...if we make any of those three plays we probably win."

The game certainly started the way Akron wanted to, though.

If you looked at the first five minutes of the game, you would think that Akron would have ran away with the contest. Kwan Cheatham's two three-pointers sparked an 8-0 run to start the game. Middle Tennessee hadn't even attempted a shot two and a half minutes into the game, but that quickly changed. The Blue Raiders answered with a 7-0 run themselves to get right back into the game.

Akron used a steady dose of three-pointers on offense early on in the first half, as nine of the first thirteen Akron points were from deep. It was a trait that Akron has relied on all season, but didn't make much sense in this game seeing as the Blue Raiders were lacking size.

Middle Tennessee went on a 16-2 run in the first half, which coincided with an Akron scoring drought of almost five minutes. The Zips looked listless and couldn't buy a bucket, and it ultimately may have cost them the game. If it wasn't for a seven-of-eight showing from the free throw line at the end of the first half, the Zips may have been out of it by halftime.

The second half was a case of Akron storming back to within one score, but it was followed by a Blue Raider spurt. Akron could never get over the hump in the second half, and it didn't help that the Zips' star freshman Robotham was saddled with foul trouble and had probably the worst game of his inaugural season.

Robotham scored his first bucket with just over ten minutes left in the game, and never looked for his shot when Akron really needed him to. Dambrot complimented how well Middle Tennessee guarded him during the game, and it's a strategy that Akron opponents will likely try to implement going forward.

The Zips found themselves down ten, 60-50, with five minutes left in the game. It seemed that Akron was on the verge of a run, and they scrapped one together. Five straight points from Antino Jackson combined with Deji Ibitayo and Forsythe layups cut the lead to just one and Middle Tennessee was on their heels.

But, like with the entire game, Akron couldn't even get back on top and finish it out.

Even though the two missed free throws were a backbreaker, Forsythe did have a nice game, finishing with fourteen points and five rebounds. All of Kwan Cheatham's twelve came from beyond the arc, and Jackson scored a career high ten points.

Reggie Upshaw led the way for the Blue Raiders, scoring a game-high seventeen along with eight rebounds. Jacquez Rozier and Edward Simpson also finished in double digits, scoring thirteen and ten respectively.

It doesn't get easier for the Zips, who face North Dakota State in Fargo on Tuesday. That's a tough turnaround after a heartbreaking loss.