The old adage goes "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of fight in the dog." In Tuesday night's game against South Carolina State, Akron's Isaiah "Big Dog" Johnson filled both qualities in the saying to lead the Zips (10-2) to a comfortable but closer-than-expected 78-68 victory.
The 6-foot-10, 290 pound junior from Cincinnati led the Zips with a career-high 24 points, 8 points higher than his previous career-high of 16 set last season against Western Michigan. Johnson got the job done a variety of ways, but most of all he was nearly perfect from the free throw line. A career 56 percent shooter, Johnson nailed 14-16 (88 percent) from the charity stripe.
Surprisingly, the ability to hit free throws helped Akron in this game. That's not a sentence you hear a lot around the Akron program, as for the past few years the Zips have ranked at the bottom of the MAC and all of Division I in free throw percentage. Against South Carolina State, Akron, aided by Johnson's sharpshooting, hit 26-32 attempts from the foul line. They held a huge advantage over the Bulldogs, who only attempted 16 free throws, hitting 9.
Akron's defense was suspect all game, as they gave away many easy points to the Bulldogs on layups. The Zips only committed 11 turnovers but was not switching well while the Bulldogs had the ball, giving up good looks in or around the paint. Their opponent shot 48 percent from the field, but if you take out their abysmal shooting from beyond the arc (1-13, 7 percent), that field goal percentage rises to 60.
It's a bit inexcusable for a team like Akron to let South Carolina State shoot nearly 60 percent from the field, but they still won the game. It's going to be something to work on, as much more talented defensive teams will come into the JAR and not give away a bunch of fouls. Yes, the Zips haven't played in a week and the Christmas holiday throws everyone off, but still this game was a little closer than it really should have been.
South Carolina State (5-10) was led by Darryl Palmer who nearly notched a double-double off of the bench. He scored 20 points on 9-11 shooting and collected 8 rebounds. Eric Eaves and Gabe McCray also had nice games scoring 16 points each.
Akron finishes off non-conference play on Saturday night with a contest against Lipscomb. The Bison are struggling this season at just 4-12 with just two wins over Division I competition. The Zips are halfway to their magical 20-win mark this season, and conference play hasn't even began. This team could win a lot of games, and if non-conference play is any indication these Zips could be headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
|Player||Akron||South Carolina State|
|Points||I. Johnson (24)||D. Palmer (20)|
|Rebounds||Two tied (9)||D. Palmer (8)|
|Assists||Two tied (4)||T. Soloman (5)|
|Blocks||I. Johnson (1)||D. Palmer (1)|
|Steals||J. Williams (2)||E. Eaves (2)|