Zips dominant at Rhodes Arena

“While the semester is coming to a close and most of the campus community is looking forward to winter break, the University of Akron’s men’s basketball team is in the thick of its nonconference schedule and is looking ahead to the start of Mid-American Conference play.”

While the semester is coming to a close and most of the campus community is looking forward to winter break, the University of Akron’s men’s basketball team is in the thick of its nonconference schedule and is looking ahead to the start of Mid-American Conference play.

The Zips (5-2) fell at Winthrop 68-58 Tuesday night, after leading 55-45 with 4:46 remaining in the game. The Golden Eagles finished the game on a 23-3 to collect the come-from-behind victory.

The Zips will look to rebound and stay unbeaten at home when they host North Carolina Central Saturday at 7 p.m. After Saturday’s game with the Eagles, the team will not play again until Dec. 15 at Austin Peay because of semester exams.

The Zips will spend the majority of winter recess in the friendly confines of Rhodes Arena, with three of the team’s five games at home. The team has won its last 13 home games and is 43-2 in games at the JAR in head coach Keith Dambrot’s four-plus seasons.

The team will begin a three-game homestand on Dec. 19 against North Carolina A&T. The Aggies finished the 2006-2007 season with a 15-17 overall record and were 10-8 in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. North Carolina A&T returns 11 letterwinners this season and posted an impressive 96-93 win at DePaul in November.

North Carolina A&T is a team that has gone to DePaul and has won, so they’re starting to build a good tradition at the Division I level, just like what they had at Division II, Dambrot said. That will be a big challenge for us.

The Zips will then host Youngstown State two days later. The Penguins return seven players from last year’s team, which posted a 14-17 overall record and a 7-9 mark in Horizon League play. UA defeated YSU 70-61 last season at the Beeghly Center.

The Zips’ head coach said the two in-state rivals have a rich history on the hardwood.

Youngstown State’s improved, Dambrot said. It’s a big rivalry. Even when I was a little kid, it was a big deal.

The Zips will close the three-game homestand with a game against the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Zips will look to avenge the 86-80 loss they suffered at UIC Pavilion last season.

UIC beat us last year and they’re talented, Dambrot said. Sometimes, they don’t play as great together, but they’ve got a lot of talent, so we’re gonna have to play well in that game.

The team then plays one of its toughest road games of the season against the Dayton Flyers Jan. 2. UD was 15-2 at home last season. The Flyers have already defeated MAC teams Toledo and Miami this season.

Dayton’s going to put 13,000 (fans) in there as long as the weather’s good, Dambrot said. The last time we went there, the weather was bad and they still had about 9,000. They have big tradition, they expect to win every night (and) they’ve got very good players.

There is no question that the marquee contest over the break is UA’s opener against 2007 MAC Tournament Champion and division rival, Miami University on Jan. 5 at Rhodes Arena. The three meetings between schools last season all were decided in the game’s final seconds, and the margin of victory in each game was two points or less. Last year’s MAC Championship game only added to an already intense rivalry.

That’ll be a huge, huge game for us, Dambrot said. We have a special rivalry with them now. Every game’s been close. The last three have all gone to the wire, the buzzer.

The Zips will travel to Buffalo to face the Bulls on Jan. 12 and close their slate of games before the spring semester begins Jan. 14.

The game-day experience at Rhodes Arena is traditionally different during winter break from when school is in session. Live performances from the band are replaced with recorded songs, and fewer students attend the games because they’re not on campus.

Dambrot acknowledged that the atmosphere surrounding the games is different, but also credited the fans that do come to the games with giving the Zips a home-court advantage.

Players are human beings, Dambrot said. They like it when the environment’s great. They play better when the environment’s better.

After UA won its 34th home game of its last 35 attempts against Wyoming Saturday, Dambrot praised the fans who have supported the team through their attendance at home games and implored other students and community members to come watch the Zips play.

When you win 43 (games) at home, you need to put more people in the stands than we’re putting in the stands, he said. If we’re ever gonna take the next jump program-wise, we need to fill the arena, or we’ll just always be a mid-level (program).

The Akron native also said that he’ll do anything to accommodate fans willing to come out and watch the team and help the Zips’ men’s basketball program continue to grow.

I’ll do anything to fill the arena; anything except something illegal, Dambrot said. I’ll do anything to make the program better. I just want the program to get better and that’s part of getting better.

The (marketing) slogan is right: this is your team. Why are we waiting until the MAC games? Let’s average 4,300-5,000.

Senior forward Jeremiah Wood said after UA’s win against Temple Nov. 26 that the team takes pride in performing well in front of its home crowd and defending its home court.

We don’t like losing at Akron, Wood said. We take pride in when people come in here, we don’t lose.

” #1.1361419:338815928.jpg:Dials 2.jpg:Nick Dials is averaging 12.4 points-per-game this season. :Buchtelite File Photo”