Last season the Akron Zips got a bit of a scare from the same Coppin State Eagles that they faced tonight. The Zips led comfortably at halftime of that game but stumbled a bit in the second half, as the Eagles got the lead down to eight. Akron pulled it out and won by eleven, but it wasn't the blowout most expected it to be.
The Zips sort of followed the storyline of last season's game, though they used a strong defensive gameplan to overpower the Eagles and come out with a seventeen point victory. Akron forced Coppin State into 22 turnovers and turned those miscues into 27 points. Although the Zips were outrebounded 42-33, capitalizing on turnovers was what ultimately won Akron the game.
The game started off with both teams feeling each other out, trading baskets and bad turnovers. Akron went on a 10-0 run to break the game open a little bit with Coppin State coughing up the ball up five times during that span. After that, the Zips went on another run, this time a 16-3 outburst that put Akron up 18. It seemed like Akron would cruise from there, but the Eagles stormed back with a 10-3 run of their own to close out the half.
The lead was ten at halftime, but Akron really should have been up by more. The Zips scored 22 points off of 13 Eagle turnovers, but were outrebounded 24-10. Akron shot well from the floor (48%) and also from beyond the arc (43%), but that wasn't enough to extend the lead more than ten.
That three-point shooting didn't carry over to the second half, though, as Akron missed the first six three-pointers (all on consecutive possessions) until Deji Ibitayo finally nailed one on the next possession. Pat Forsythe picked up his fourth foul right after and went to the bench, forcing Keith Dambrot to adjust his offensive mindset without his starting center.
The rest of the second half was pretty ugly basketball to watch. Akron just chucked a bunch of threes and lucked out making some of them. They were 3-15 from beyond the arc in the first fourteen minutes of the second half and Coppin State used all those misses to cut the lead to ten. The lead stayed between ten and fourteen for most of the rest of the game before Coppin State started missing a bunch of threes. The final spread was seventeen, and it definitely felt like that was the ultimate difference between the two teams.
It seemed like it wasn't all going to be great news though. Akron's star freshman point guard Noah Robotham went down in a heap after a scramble for a loose ball with eight minutes left to go in the first half. Robotham had to be carried off by two teammates and it looked like a nasty knee injury.
After going back to the locker room, Robotham emerged a few minutes later and started riding a stationary bike. Robotham checked back in at the 1:45 mark in the first half and seemed to move around without any limp.
Akron was paced by Isaiah Johnson who tied a career-high with thirteen points on 7-10 shooting from the free throw line. Kwan Cheatham, Antino Jackson and Robotham all poured in ten points while Cheatham led the team in both rebounds (7) and assists (5).
Sterling Smith led the way for the Eagles, netting sixteen points on 5-12 shooting. Arnold Fripp, Taariq Cephas and Christian Kessee were all in double figures with fourteen, twelve and eleven respectively.
Akron's focus now turns to conference play, where the Zips open with two of the best teams in the MAC. They host Western Michigan on Tuesday before heading out to Savage Arena on Friday to face the Toledo Rockets on ESPNU. It's a challenging start to the conference schedule, but if Akron can win both, look out.
Coppin State, now 1-14, starts MEAC play a week from today at Howard. Howard the University, not Stern, or Dean, or Desmond.