Turmoil for the Zips

Turmoil for the Zips

D.J. Johnson

A week ago, the Akron Zips won their second consecutive conference regular season championship, securing the number one seed in MAC tournament and what looked to be a definite path into the championship game.

Now, a different team without point guard Alex Abreu, the Zips head into Friday’s semifinal game coming off a 68-64 loss to Kent State, their first loss at home this season.

“Our guys got put in a very difficult position,” said coach Keith Dambrot. “You can’t lose a guy like (Abreu) and not have it affect you in one day.”

After Abreu was arrested last Thursday for allegedly accepting a package of five pounds of marijuana, Dambrot’s team was forced to turn around and play Friday night without their vocal leader.

“We had very little prep time to offset that loss,” said Dambrot.

The star point guard was replaced by freshman Carmelo Betancourt, who handled the offense well for much of the game (5 points, 4 assists), but Abreu’s abilities to create for his teammates were clearly missed.

Akron (24-6, 14-2 MAC) went a combined 11-of-32 in the first half, as Kent (19-12, 9-7 MAC) got out to a hot start and led 40-25 at halftime.

The Zips did everything in their power to crawl back into the game, but the shooting woes kept it a double digit deficit until 5:01 remained in the game.

A glimmer of hope came inside of 30 seconds when back-to-back threes by freshmen Jake Kretzer and Reggie McAdams had the game within a possession at 64-61.

The Golden Flashes snapped their five-game losing streak to the Zips with clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.

Senior Zeke Marshall led Akron with 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.

The Zips went just 25-of-72 from the field (34.7 percent) and 6-of-27 from three-point range (22.2 percent).

“I give our guys a lot of credit, they could have folded the tent,” said Dambrot. “We’ll come roaring back and try to figure out the best direction for us to go.”

The Zips will now have until Friday to figure out the loss of Abreu, as a potential matchup rematch with no. 4 seed Kent lies ahead in the semifinal. Combined, Akron is 4-2 against potential semifinal opponents.

What almost seemed inevitable a week ago, the championship game between Akron and the Ohio Bobcats, will now require a comeback effort from the Zips on Friday night.

The Zips begin tournament play at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The championship game will be played at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.