Antino Jackson and Isaiah Johnson rang in the New Year inside James A. Rhodes Arena in the best way possible Saturday, by ending Akron's non-conference schedule with hard-fought win over Lipscomb, 80-73.
But the final score belies how good Lipscomb was in the opening half. The Bison (4-13) smothered the Akron offense for large parts of Saturday night, forcing the Zips to shoot long jumpers and contested inside shots. But the plan backfired early as, at one point, Akron was shooting 60 percent from three and seven of its nine field goals were from beyond the arc.
And then Isaiah Johnson hits his groove.
A couple early put backs off the glass and some stifling defense turned into an offensive explosion, that was punctuated by a thunderous dunk late in the first half and a solid outing in the second. Johnson finished with a team-leading 20 points, five rebounds and three blocks.
Noah Robotham and Jackson weren't far behind with 18 and nine points, respectively. The rest of the Zips struggled for their respective shots, as Akron's overall shooting amounted to 39.4 percent.
And that allowed the Bison to stick around all game. The Zips only entered halftime with a seven-point lead and it became clear that Lipscomb had no intention of making things easy for Akron in the second half.
The Bison even took a six-point lead with 15:33 left to go.
That early string of 3-pointers had the Zips feeling good about their chances from deep, but that led to a lot of bricked 3s early in the second half. But Antino Jackson put Akron back in front with a transition dunk and an and-one opportunity that got the crowd at the JAR back on its feet.
When Reggie McAdams was able to hit a dagger 3 from the corner with a little under two minutes left, the Zips' faithful inside the JAR were in an uproar and they could sense that a Zips' win seemed imminent. Their faith was proven when Jackson held the ball just inside half court as time expired.
Now the Zips must focus on Tuesday's Mid-American Conference opener at Buffalo. The Bills went 7-6 in non-conference play and should be an ideal opponent for Akron to get its MAC schedule going while being offered a good challenge.