By: D.J. Johnson
Saturday night nearly turned out disastrous for the University of Akron men’s basketball team as they traveled to Mount Pleasant for their showdown with Central Michigan.
Leading the seven-win Chippewas 63-60 with 1:37 remaining, the Zips played a spirited last 97 seconds to lead to a 74-64 victory.
Quincy Diggs went to the line to make it a two-possession game, and what came out was a 67-60 lead by the time Central Michigan got the ball back. Diggs hit his first attempt but missed the second free throw, which was rebounded by Zeke Marshall. On the converted follow-up, Marshall was fouled and knocked down his free throw.
The four points in two seconds made it a three-possession game with 1:35 to go.
From there, the Zips would rely on free throw shooting, something they struggled with all night, to escape with the victory.
Marshall and Nick Harney led the way for the Zips, each scoring 13 points. The seven-foot Marshall had a customary five blocks, and Harney was perfect on the night, going 4-of-4 from the floor and the free throw line.
Chauncey Gilliam was the only other Zip to reach double figures, chipping in 11 points on the night.
Central’s Derek Jackson led all scorers with 21 points.
Despite leading by 19 late in the first half (34-15), the Zips could not pull away from the Chippewas, who cut the lead to 40-28 by halftime. Akron did not do themselves any favors as they hit just 9-of-17 free throws in the first 20 minutes.
CMU would keep within striking distance in the second half, trailing 63-54 with 5:39 remaining in the game. Two three-point possessions for the Chippewas cut the Akron lead to 63-60, but that is the closest Central would get.
The Zips hit 7-of-10 free throws in the last 1:11 to seal the win.
The win moves Akron to 14-7, 6-1 MAC, as they hold their lead atop the MAC East.
The loss drops Central Michigan to 7-13, 2-5 MAC, as they have lost five straight games.
UA will host Toledo (10-11, 2-5 MAC) on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.