Zips tied for second in division

“By Vincent Dorsey vdorsey@buchtelite.com No matter the sport or competition level, all teams hope to have a shot at the championship heading into the final stretch of the season. For four of the five men’s basketball teams in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division, that hope is still alive heading into the final two weeks of the regular reason.”

By Vincent Dorsey

vdorsey@buchtelite.com

No matter the sport or competition level, all teams hope to have a shot at the championship heading into the final stretch of the season.

For four of the five men’s basketball teams in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division, that hope is still alive heading into the final two weeks of the regular reason. Akron, Bowling Green, Kent State and Miami all enter tonight’s round of divisional play tied for second place in the MAC East at 8-4, one game behind division-leader Buffalo.

We’ve got like 40 teams tied at 8-4, so this is gettin’ good, joked Miami head coach Charlie Coles after the Zips defeated the RedHawks at Rhodes Arena last week. I just think you’re gonna see some interesting things from here on in.

I give Akron credit. I give Kent credit. This is something else now.

The race will take a much more definitive shape at the close of tonight’s slate of games. The Zips take on Buffalo at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena while the Golden Flashes travel to Anderson Arena to face the Falcons. The RedHawks will play their third consecutive road contest at Ohio University.

UA (17-10, 8-4 MAC) will be looking to avenge a 63-61 loss to UB (17-8, 9-3 MAC) at Rhodes Arena on Jan. 13 in the pivotal game.

A backdoor layup by junior guard Calvin Betts with 21.7 seconds left in the game served as the decisive blow in the early-season conference battle that saw 15 ties and 10 lead changes.

The setback dropped the Zips to 0-2 in conference play. Since that meeting, the team has gone 8-2 in MAC games.

UA head coach Keith Dambrot said the turnaround can be attributed to the team running its offense through its low post game more consistently.

I think that’s the difference between our team now and at the beginning of the year, Dambrot said after the Miami win. Our best chance to win is to throw the ball inside. No matter how badly we’re playing in there, we still have to throw the ball in there. I think we understand that now.

In the Zips’ win over the RedHawks, junior forward Chris McKnight scored a career-high tying 18 points, 16 of which came in the second half. UA outscored MU 20-14 in the paint for the game.

However, in its latest game at Valparaiso, UA was outscored 30-20 in the paint. After the loss, Dambrot voiced his dissatisfaction with his team’s performance during a postgame radio interview saying, I’ve never been as disappointed in a team as this.

Overall, though, the Zips have been steadily improving. UA and division-leader Buffalo come into this game somewhat evenly-matched. Defensively, the Zips will have to establish a rebounding mindset early and not leave Buffalo guards open for threes.

The Bulls, who come into the game following three consecutive losses, are led offensively by junior guard Rodney Pierce’s 14.3 points per contest. Betts leads the team in rebounding, averaging 6.0 boards per game.

Despite UA’s gradual climb up the standings, Dambrot’s focus has remained on improving his team’s performance.

I can’t control what the other teams do, the Zips’ fifth-year head coach said. Our job is to win as many games as we can win, and see where we end up. What we’re trying to do is get ourselves in position for the postseason.

Tip-off between the Bulls and Zips is set for 7 p.m.

UA fans can watch a free webcast of the game by clicking the multimedia link at http://www.ubathletics.buffalo.edu.

UA will return home Sunday at noon and host Bowling Green in an FSN Ohio telecast.

Call senior sports writer Vincent Dorsey:

330-972-7395

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