“The University of Akron men’s basketball team began its second stretch of Mid-American Conference East Division games Saturday by defeating Bowling Green 65-56 at Anderson Arena. With the victory and Ohio University’s 62-72 loss at Kent State, UA (18-7, 8-4 MAC) moved into sole possession of second place in the division, two games behind the Golden Flashes.””
The University of Akron men’s basketball team began its second stretch of Mid-American Conference East Division games Saturday by defeating Bowling Green 65-56 at Anderson Arena.
With the victory and Ohio University’s 62-72 loss at Kent State, UA (18-7, 8-4 MAC) moved into sole possession of second place in the division, two games behind the Golden Flashes.
The Zips were paced offensively by junior forward Nate Linhart and senior guards Nick Dials and Cedrick Middleton, who all scored 14 points. Linhart also paced UA with nine rebounds.
Since being outscored 50-34 in the second half at Kent State on Jan. 23, UA has struggled to maintain the high level of play that it exhibited during the first half of the season. Losses to Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois have seen the team fall from the top-echelon of the MAC this season.
Injuries, albeit of varying degrees, to senior starters Dials, Middleton and Jeremiah Wood are a major reason for the team’s struggles. Dials has battled a hip flexor, Middleton has been limited by knee problems and Wood has been sidelined since Feb. 9 when he had surgery to repair a torn right lateral meniscus in his right knee.
UA head coach Keith Dambrot said that the injuries have altered the Zips’ offensive and defensive strategies, much like it would that of any other team.
For two weeks, Wood wasn’t very healthy, Dambrot said. Then, Cedrick’s gotten worse physically.
I would challenge any team in this league to lose its two best players, because Cedrick was our second-leading scorer, and be the same team. In reality, we’re just like everybody else now. That may sound like it’s an excuse, but I think it’s a reality.
Dambrot said that after having Middleton rest during a series of practices, and not seeing any improvement, that the coaching staff decided to have him participate in the team’s workouts.
I tried to rest him for about 10 days in practice and didn’t think the rest helped him, Dambrot said. We just decided that we’re going to start practicing him now.
It doesn’t look like rest helps him. I think extended rest would, but extended rest means he misses the whole season.
Middleton’s 30-minute, 14-point performance at BGSU was one of his strongest outings of late.
Dials’ hip flexor has caused him to miss spurts of playing time in several games this season while being stretched by UA’s training staff.
The senior guard said that the injury affects him the most while sitting on the bench.
The more it loosens up and the more the blood flows, I feel better, Dials said. The longer I’m in there, the better I feel.
Wood, who was expected to miss four weeks to recover from his surgery, is already jogging and could be back sooner than was originally thought.
I think he’s further along than I thought he would be at this point, Dambrot said Thursday after practice. He’s jogged after four days. He may be back in 10 days.
Nothing would surprise me because the guy’s pretty determined right now.
Along with attempting to catch Kent State for the MAC East lead, UA will use its four remaining conference games to try to secure one of the top four seeds in the MAC Tournament. Those four teams are awarded byes in the tournament’s first round.
Dambrot said that the return of a healthy Wood is important for the team to reach its goals down the season’s final stretch.
I think the most important thing is to get Wood back, he said. If we get Wood back playing at a high level, we have the great equalizer. Wood back playing at a medium level is still better than what we have, because he’s been in a lot of games.
If we can get Wood back playing at a high level, then this team is capable of beating anybody.
UA’s fourth-year head coach added that without his senior leaders near full strength the Zips’ talent level is equal to that of every other team in the MAC.
I think we were one of the very best teams in the league, but we’re a little depleted, so now we’re like everybody else, Dambrot said. I think with those other guys we’re probably a little better than that one main pack. Other than Miami, Kent, Ohio U and, maybe, Western Michigan, everybody else is pretty much the same.
We’re probably not up in that top four right now with the injuries.
Three of UA’s four remaining conference games come against some of the MAC’s top teams. The Zips will travel to Miami University and Ohio University over the next week. UA will host Kent State at Rhodes Arena March 9 in the regular season finale for both teams.
The Zips will visit the Miami RedHawks tonight at Millett Hall. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.
“” #1.1361286:2750238123.jpg:dials, nick_0070.jpg:Dials has struggled with injuries throughout the season.:Jeff Harwell / Zips Sports Photography”