Zips start MAC play

“After the University of Akron’s men’s basketball team defeated St. Francis (N.Y.) on Dec. 28 in its final home before the start of conference play, head coach Keith Dambrot sat in the Rhodes Arena media room for over a half hour discussing the state of his young Zips.”

After the University of Akron’s men’s basketball team defeated St. Francis (N.Y.) on Dec. 28 in its final home before the start of conference play, head coach Keith Dambrot sat in the Rhodes Arena media room for over a half hour discussing the state of his young Zips.

Dambrot talked of his team’s inconsistent play and described the challenge that awaited his team in Mid-American Conference play.

We have to realize it’s going to be a very difficult stretch, play as hard as we can play and get in survival mode, Dambrot said of the fact that three of UA’s first four conference games were to be played on the road.

UA’s fifth-year head coach said the key to the Zips contending for the MAC East crown would be a solid defensive effort every night.

I believe we’ll be in every game if we play good defense, he said. We’ve shown we can play with people, but we’ve been inconsistent and erratic.

Through the first three conference games, UA displayed both characteristics. The team put together solid defensive efforts, but its struggle to score points resulted in a 1-2 record. The Zips opened MAC play by taking senior-laden Miami (Ohio) to overtime at Millet Hall before falling, losing to upstart Buffalo by two points at home and rebounding to defeat Bowling Green by 10 at Anderson Arena.

In those games, the Zips showed the potential to be one of the conference’s stoutest defenses. UA held the Bulls to 36.7 percent shooting from the field and the Falcons to 28.3 percent from the field.

While the team’s defense kept it in every game, its offensive inconsistency kept it from capturing wins in two early-season divisional games.

The team’s overall inexperience and lack of a proven offensive threat proved to be the difference in the late stages of the team’s two losses.

At crunch time, we’ve always had a player we’ve been able to go to, Dambrot said after UA fell to UB, 63-61. This year, it’s kind of potluck. Our good plug players have not become impact players yet.

Dambrot said it’s imperative for a team to win the majority of its close games.

I think if you don’t win them, it becomes psychological, he said. You have to have that edge – that absolute belief structure – that you’re gonna win when it matters.

The Zips’ ability to win when it matters will ultimately determine the team’s overall success at season’s end.

If we win enough close ones, we can have a great year, Dambrot said after the team’s 54-50 home loss to Dayton on Dec. 6. If we lose enough close ones, we can be an average team.

UA has lacked two of the key components of its veteran teams of the past three seasons – a formidable inside presence and consistent outside shooting. In the team’s conference losses, the Zips have been outrebounded and outscored in the paint by their opponent.

Junior guard Darryl Roberts said after the loss to Buffalo that in order for the team to solve its offensive struggles it was going to have to battle through adversity and find an offensive identity.

Coach preaches everyday that we have to have toughness, Roberts said. We just have to find one thing we’re good at offensively and stick to it.

UA will host arch-rival Kent State on Saturday at noon to conclude the first round of divisional play. The Zips will then travel to Youngstown State to play the Penguins in a nonconference contest on Monday before they begin a stretch of six consecutive games against MAC West opponents at Toledo on Jan. 28.