After a terrible shooting start first half, Akron looked like it was still in the midst of a Christmas break lull. In the end, though, the Zips responded and played well enough over the rest of the game to close out a pesky Marshall squad. The 70-63 win padded the Akron record to 8-4 and halts the Zips' two-game losing streak against Division 1 competition.
The first half started off badly, as both teams couldn't hit anything. They were a combined 5-23 shooting from the floor at one point in the first half and it looked like this game would be a defensive struggle. Marshall began the half shooting a bit better and jumped out to a 11-4 lead a little over seven minutes into the ballgame. Akron countered with a huge 18-2 run that included six straight from B.J. Gladden.
That pushed Akron's lead to 22-13 and the rest of the half consisted of the teams trading baskets. The half ended with the Zips up by eleven - 35-24 - and saw Akron's shooting percentage rise from 15% early on to a more respectable but not great 36%. Four players finished the first half with six points - Gladden, Pat Forsythe, Reggie McAdams and Deji Ibitayo. Noah Robotham had five and nailed a clutch three to finish off the half.
Marshall's first half was dominated by Ryan Taylor. Taylor was perfect from the floor and posted thirteen first half points and three rebounds. He didn't get any help from his teammates though, as everyone else on the Marshall team shot just 4-22 from the field (18%).
Akron had the lead up to thirteen four minutes into the second half, but Marshall stormed back with a 9-0 run all from Austin Loop three-pointers. The Zips did well to push the lead back to eight, but then the possible turning point in the game happened. After a crazy possession in which the ball changed hands multiple times, Marshall's Taylor limped off the floor onto the bench favoring his ankle. It looked pretty bad, and he didn't play the rest of the game.
After that Akron pushed the lead out to nine and seemed to be cruising to an easy victory. Marshall wasn't having it though, as the Herd got within three with five minutes to go. The Zips responded with a 9-3 run, but that was immediately answered by a Marshall 5-0 run to get the lead back down to three. It was a tense last two minutes at the JAR, but Robotham made four of six free throws to ice the game for the Zips.
While the Zips shot worse than Marshall did (43% to 36%), Akron made up for it with stellar rebounding. Akron outrebounded Marshall 42-32 and had a whopping eighteen offensive rebounds which led to multiple second chance scoring opportunities. Although the Zips were cold from the field, they at least were hungry enough to rebound their own misses.
Forsythe and Robotham were the catalysts for Akron, scoring thirteen points each. Forsythe also had ten rebounds, of which seven were offensive and led to a couple nice putbacks. McAdams and Ibitayo finished with twelve and eleven respectively, and all but two of those points came from beyond the arc.
Loop led the way for Marshall with a strong second half and finished with sixteen points, twelve of which were threes. Taylor had fifteen before leaving the game with an ankle injury. Aleksa Nikolic had one of the oddest stat lines I've ever seen: two points, eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and six turnovers.
The Thundering Herd came into this game losing eight straight to Division 1 competition. It's been a tough go for first-year head coach Dan D'Antoni, who took over after Tom Herrion was bought out. Marshall has always been a decent program but can't find it's footing in a crowded C-USA. It'll be a difficult turn around for the former Los Angeles Lakers assistant. He's at his alma mater, so he's likely in for the long haul unless he can't turn around the program.
Marshall opens up Conference USA play with their fourth road game in a row on Sunday. They'll be in Bowling Green, Kentucky to face Western Kentucky and will try to not lose their tenth in a row to Division 1 competition.
The Zips have a big of a quick turnaround, as they get Coppin State at home on Saturday. The Eagles are putrid, sitting at the bottom of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with a 1-13 record. Their only win is over Division II's Goldey-Beacom, which I had to look up because I wasn't sure if that was a real school or not.