Surviving dissapointments, staying optimistic, key for Middleton

“Cedrick Middleton knows it can get worse. He won’t deny that losing to archrival Kent State Sunday in his final game at Rhodes Arena with the Mid-American Conference East Division title on the line was disappointing, especially with the MAC Player of the Year Al Fisher burying a 3-pointer in the final seconds to give KSU a win-erasing a tremendous comeback.”

Cedrick Middleton knows it can get worse.

He won’t deny that losing to archrival Kent State Sunday in his final game at Rhodes Arena with the Mid-American Conference East Division title on the line was disappointing, especially with the MAC Player of the Year Al Fisher burying a 3-pointer in the final seconds to give KSU a win-erasing a tremendous comeback.

He won’t deny that he was disappointed in his performance, either.

But it doesn’t faze him either because he’s felt far greater pain on the basketball court.

The past 12 months hasn’t been easy on the senior guard. This season has been the most trying of his long career at the University of Akron, which includes appearing in the most games any Zip has ever played in.

He’s battled a torturous knee injury all season. And he’s battled with the memory of a missed free throw, a game clock operator who lapsed and an answered prayer 12 months ago at the MAC tournament finals that left Zips fans in a daze, coaches furious and Middleton lying face first in disbelief on the hardwood at Quicken Loans Arena after suffering the most gut-wrenching loss in UA basketball history.

Middleton has battled knee problems throughout his career, but this year the pain was at a different level. He said he has chipped bones around his left knee that has limited his explosiveness, something that separated him in the past from everyone else.

It just slows me down, he said. Knowing last year how I was playing, getting lay ups and mixing it up with 3’s. Now I’m lucky if I get one or two lay ups. I’m pretty much just shooting threes now, which is all right but I want to mix it up.

His inability to get easy baskets, which could possibly be due to a lack of a true point guard, has given way to a rough season. He’s averaging 9.9 points per game, while shooting just 40 percent on field goals, only a season after earning Sixth Man of the Year Honors in which he shot 46 percent on field goals and 39 percent on 3-pointers.

Middleton scored double-figure points in nine of the season’s first 15 games, not an unremarkable statistic, but slightly sub par, considering the expectation level after his junior season.

The following nine games, however, he never scored more than eight points.

Around January my knee just took a turn for the worst, UA’s Iron Man, who has played in every game in the last four years said. It’s just a real bad nagging injury, but I’ll worry about it after the season.

He tried different treatments, including a cortisone shot, which he said worked, but the pain it caused the following day wasn’t worth the price.

I’ll probably try it during the tournament, though, he said.

He warms up by soaking his knee in a whirlpool and keeps a heating pad on it as well as taking Celebrex, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication used to treat arthritis, among other things.

The week leading up to the Zips tilt against Bowling Green in mid-February, Middleton noticed what he called a miracle.

His knee was feeling better, about how it did last season. He scored 14 points against the Falcons, which ignited a stretch of five games in which he averaged 17.6 points, which included a 20-point game against Buffalo and 19-point outburst in a road win against Ohio.

Everything is controlled by my knee: how I drive, how I jump, my shot, Middleton said. And it started to feel like last year for those five games.

But his knee flared up recently. He was held to just seven points against Kent, despite playing 33 minutes about seven more than he usually plays. His knee hurt, but the loss stung.

After you lose a buzzer beater, you always think about all the small things you could have done, he said. The lay up you missed or the free throws you missed. Any thing that could have made up that three-point margin.

Middleton, however, is looking forward to the chance to exercise the memories from last year’s conference tournament.

The Zips first MAC tourney match up is today at 2:30 against Central Michigan.

I definitely feel a whole lot of pressure to get back to the finals, he said. I feel like we definitely should have won it last year. I think we deserved it. Hopefully, we’ll work hard enough to get it this year.