Akron head coach Keith Dambrot and Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins have quite a history together. They're the longest-tenured coaches in the conference and have met 20 times before tonight's game - with Dambrot owning a 15-5 edge over Hawkins.
Dambrot notched another win over Hawkins on Friday night, as the Zips (13-2, 2-0) struggled from the field and on the glass but came up with a 62-53 victory. Western Michigan (6-9, 0-2) had the Akron lead down to just five with 6 minutes left, but the Zips closed the game out with a 9-3 run as a Kwan Cheatham dagger three-ball put the Zips up 11 with a minute on the clock.
After a heartbreaking overtime loss at home to Kent State, Western Michigan came out like they were still reeling from that defeat. An 13-2 Akron run in the mid-first half put the Zips up 23-9 and firmly in control of the game.
The Broncos' turnover problems also carried over from the Kent State game. At the 11:54 mark in the first half, Western Michigan had 9 points and 8 turnovers. The turnover issue wasn't just from one player either - those 8 early turnovers were committed by 8 different Broncos.
Hawkins' squad didn't start the bus up and fold though. They battled back slowly but surely, as Thomas Wilder started heating up. The Broncos cut the lead all the way down to 27-21 as Akron started to miss shots and turn the ball over.
Akron's Jake Kretzer wanted to stop that, and promptly nailed two 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, with the last being a nice trailing three that hit nothing but net. The Zips walked into halftime up 34-23 and feeling pretty comfortable about the game in general.
The second half proved to be an uncomfortable one for Akron. A 9-4 WMU run to open the half cut the Zips lead to just six at 38-32, and surely this game would not be the easy victory Akron saw walking into the locker room at halftime.
A big Kretzer three gave the Zips a little cushion. He was Akron's leading scorer at that point, but picked up his fourth foul with 11:45 on the clock.
Immediately after that foul, Western Michigan went on a quick 7-0 run to pull the Akron lead back to just two at 43-41. The Zips responded though, and got a big helping hand from WMU's Taylor Perry, who fouled Reggie McAdams while shooting a three. McAdams made all three free throws to put the Zips back up 7, and only once did the Broncos get the lead back down to five.
The Zips did not play well - they shot 34 percent from the field and were outrebounded a staggering 50-35 - but they pulled it out in the end like good teams do. "These guys know how to win - the one thing we do is win." Dambrot said in the post game press conference. To win a conference championship teams need to win games like these, and that's exactly what Akron did tonight.
Wilder had the best game of anyone, scoring 25 points on 10-15 shooting from the field. Hawkins called Wilder a "special" player, and his game has really taken off this season. He's getting more playing time and more looks due to the loss of Connar Tava and making the most of it.
The Zips head to Mount Pleasant to take on the Chippewas on Tuesday looking to keep their perfect MAC record alive. Western Michigan will try to right the ship against Ball State on Tuesday at home.
|Points||An. Jackson (15)||T. Wilder (26)|
|Rebounds||I. Johnson (9)||A. Avery (10)|
|Assists||N. Robotham (4)||T. Wilder (2)|
|Blocks||Two tied (2)||D. LaMont (2)|
|Steals||Two tied (2)||Three tied (1)|