The Akron Zips basketball program has been winning a lot over the past few years. But, the one thing that Akron hadn't accomplished in awhile? Win at Buffalo.
It had been six long years since the Zips first tasted victory in Alumni Arena, but that streak ended tonight. The Zips held on to beat the Bulls 75-71 in a game that was entertaining from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
It was Isaiah Johnson, whose play has been downright stellar in the past few weeks, who ultimately carried the Zips to victory. With the game tied at 65 and a little over three minutes remaining on the clock, Johnson showed that he can be the go-to guy down the stretch for Keith Dambrot's crew.
After two Lamonte Bearden free throws put the Bulls up two, Johnson was fouled by Nick Perkins. He split the pair, bringing Akron to within one. A bad Rodell Wigginton turnover gave the Zips the ball back, and thanks to a Jake Kretzer offensive rebound that extended the possession, Antino Jackson found Johnson in the paint. The big man did what he does best calmly laying the ball in to put the Zips up one.
Wiggington split a pair of free throws on Buffalo's next turn with the ball. Again Akron looked to Johnson, but this time it was Kretzer feeding the junior center from Cincinnati. Johnson's deft touch found the bottom of the net again, and Akron lead 70-68.
It was then all about making free throws and getting defensive stops, something Akron had a bit of trouble doing the entire game. But, as great teams are wont to do, they turned it up a notch during winning time. The Zips got a stop on a Blake Hamilton travel with under a minute to play. After running down the shot clock Jackson drove the lane and was fouled by Bearden. The sophomore point guard made both to give the Zips a semi-comfortable four-point lead at 72-68.
Buffalo's Willie Conner wasn't giving up though. Perkins grabbed a missed Bearden jumper and found a wide-open Conner at the left corner, who smoothly swished the trey to bring the Akron lead back to one.
Now, it was Noah Robotham's time to shine. The sophomore from Las Vegas hadn't scored all game and saved his first points for his most important. Robotham sank both free throws to put the Zips up 3, and after a desperation Conner 3-pointer missed he was fouled again with two seconds left. The 89 percent free throw shooter split the pair and sealed the win for the now 11-2 Zips.
For Buffalo, this was a tough game to lose. The Bulls shot the ball well overall (46 percent), but struggled from beyond the arc shooting just 31 percent. The bench didn't really help out, as the four non-starters combined to shoot 4-13 for 12 points. Turnovers were a bit of an issue, especially late. It'll be a tough pill to swallow, but Nate Oats' team will be tough to put away all season.
This was a bit of a statement victory for Akron, who had been scoffed at by some because of their supposedly weak non-conference schedule. Any road win is a good one in the MAC, but for it to be at the returning champions arena makes it all the more sweet.
The Zips welcome Western Michigan to James A. Rhodes Arena on Friday night looking to improve their conference record to 2-0. Meanwhile, Buffalo will try to earn their first conference win also on Friday night at Kent State, who beat Western Michigan in overtime tonight.
|Points||W. Conner (16)||An. Jackson (16)|
|Rebounds||W. Conner (7)||I. Johnson (9)|
|Assists||B. Hamilton (3)||An. Jackson (7)|
|Blocks||Two tied (1)||Two tied (1)|
|Steals||Three tied (1)||Two tied (1)|