Written by: D.J. Johnson
After only six games this season, Akron’s men’s basketball team has a season’s worth of overtime experience.
At the James A. Rhodes Arena on Sunday afternoon, the Zips beat the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 82-77 in their third game of the season, which required five extra minutes.
“I told our guys it was kind of like a game of gladiators,” said head coach Keith Dambrot. “Who was going to take the punch and stand at the end?”
It took all of Jake Kretzer’s 8 overtime points for the Zips (4-2) to outlast the Blue Raiders (5-2).
The freshman hit his second 3-pointer to bring the score to 80-76 with a minute to go.
A key defensive stop and two free throws from Kretzer made it a 5-point game with four seconds left.
The matchup between the two top mid-major programs had a late-season feel.
Coming into Sunday’s game, the Blue Raiders were ranked 10th in the latest mid-major poll, with the Zips in the 17th spot.
Dambrot was quick to commend the Blue Raiders.
“You don’t win 27 games, and have all but one guy back, and not be a good team,” he said. “They are capable of beating a lot of people, and they are battle-tested on top of that.”
The Zips got off to a hot start, hitting five of their first seven shots on the way to a 10-2 lead five minutes into the game.
The 8-point lead would be the largest for either team.
Middle Tennessee battled back from their sluggish start on the shoulders of their sixth-man, Raymond Cintron, whose 11 points in the first half narrowed the gap to 34-33 by halftime.
Their momentum carried into the second half, and they pushed their lead to seven within the first five minutes.
Down 43-36, the Zips responded 10-0 over the next three minutes.
Back and forth it went until the end of regulation.
After Alex Abreu’s layup with 42 seconds to go to bring the score to 70-67, the Zips needed one stop to escape with a victory.
After locking down the Blue Raiders too late in the shot clock, the ball fell into Cintron’s hands, whose three clanked off the back iron but was bailed out by Demtrius Treadwell’s foul.
All three foul shots found the bottom of the net to tie the game up at 70, with 14 seconds remaining.
Abreu’s floater as time expired did not fall, and the game moved into overtime.
Kretzer, and two easy buckets for center Zeke Marshall, helped to carry the Zips in the final five minutes.
Cintron led all scorers with 22 points, going 6-of-9.
Five Akron players finished in the double figures. Abreu’s 19 points were a team-high.
The offensive balance has been a staple of the Zips program, but their depth this year has been particularly tough for their head coach.
“The hardest thing for me at this point of the season is trying to figure out who should play at crunch time,” Dambrot said.
His decision to go with Kretzer resulted in his team’s biggest win of the season.
Another resume-builder could come on Sunday, when the Zips travel to Nebraska to take on No. 16 Creighton (7-1).
Tipoff is set for 2:05 p.m.