There are worse ways to start a game than on a 33-6 run, and less stressful ways to get your 250th career win than with a 76-52 victory to open the postseason.
In the almost-too-easy win over the Northern Illinois Huskies (14-16, 8-11 MAC), the Akron Zips (19-13, 10-9 MAC) jumped all over their MAC Tournament opponents, effectively ending the game in eight minutes. It was the first-ever meeting of the two schools in the MAC Tournament, and for the Huskies' sake, I hope there's a long gap between the next meeting.
Prior to the game, this looked like a better matchup: NIU finished the season on a four-game run, while Akron had lost six of seven, including a heartbreaking last-second loss to Kent State Friday night.
Northern Illinois was simply never in it. Seemingly moments after the buzzer the Zips enjoyed a 9-0 lead, having taken seven shots to the Huskies' two. For a moment the Huskies played the Zips even, but Akron ripped off a 17-0 run over just over three minutes to build the 27-point lead.
The 48-20 lead at the break featured 21 Zips points off 10 Huskies turnovers. Six Zips already had six or more points, while no Huskies had more than four.
The whole game was played at a near-breakneck pace: Akron's first foul came with nearly 14 minutes gone, and there were only eight infractions total in the first stanza. Out of the break, NIU was forced to push the pace and press for turnovers, but gained no ground in the first eight minutes.
After all that in the first half, it got worse for the Huskies, as the lead neared 40. The final 34-point margin was built on 18 points on 7-8 shooting from Deji Ibitayo. Reggie McAdams, Kwan Cheatham, Jr., and Antino Jackson all hit double digits, as well.
Aaric Armstead scored 12 for the Huskies, but Northern couldn't overcome Akron's 13-26 shooting from distance before the walk-ons came in with seven to play. For the game, the Zips shot 51%, while the Huskies were only 3-15 from beyond the arc even after two late threes.
The best news of the night for the Zips may be that Pat Forsythe, slowed recently by toe trouble, was not pressed into service beyond a short stint in the second half. With rested Kent State and Buffalo further down the line should Akron advance to Thursday and Friday, every bit of respite will go a long way
Akron will move on to face the winner of Western Michigan and Ohio in Cleveland at 9:00 PM on Wednesday.
|Points||D. Ibitayo (18)||A. Armstead (12)|
|Rebounds||I. Johnson (6)||A. Armstead (6)|
|Assists||A. Jackson (5)||T. Baker (4)|
|Blocks||K. Cheatham, Jr; I. Johnson (2)||Three tied at (1)|
|Steals||I. Johnson (2)||T. Baker (3)|