College men’s basketball: Bobcats beaten as Zips take control of MAC

ATHENS – The Bobcats’ home rematch with arch-rival Akron had it all: a packed house hanging on every play, a top 25 opponent, a buzzer-beating finish and a dazzling array of big shots from both sides.

The only thing missing from making it an all-time Ohio classic was the happy ending.

In a colossal Mid-American Conference showdown, Akron rallied from an 18-point first-half deficit and stopped Ohio 88-81 in overtime in front of a frenzied 11,109 inside the Convocation Center Wednesday night.

Freshman Jake Kretzer, from nearby Waverly, hit on all six of his shots and bagged a career-high 19 points to power No. 24 Akron, which extended the nation’s longest current winning streak to 19 games.

“It was a dream come true tonight,” said Kretzer, who connected on five 3-pointers. “This was crazy.”

Akron (23-4, 13-0 MAC) became the first team in conference history to start the season 13-0 in league play. The Zips took a gigantic leap toward sewing up a second-straight MAC regular-season championship.

For the Bobcats (20-8, 11-2 MAC) it was another gut-wrenching loss to their biggest MAC rival. Ohio, which had a 19-game MAC home game winning streak snapped, saw its regular-season title hopes put on life support.

“It’s going to make us a little more hungry,” said Ohio’s D.J. Cooper, who led all scorers with 26 points. “We don’t control our own destiny any more.”

Ohio led by as many as 12 points at Akron in the team’s first meeting this season, and posted an 18-point lead (34-16) in the first half again on Wednesday. But the Zips continued to prove their the MAC’s best, and toughest, team. Akron notched the road win in a venue where it has lost its last two games by a combined 49 points.

“I think we exorcised some of our demons tonight,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “There’s just something a little bit different about our team this year. It’s hard to explain.

“We’re better,” he continued. “We’re not as pretty…but we’re a lot tougher. I think that’s fairly obvious.”

Demetrius Treadwell had 21 points and eight rebounds to lead Akron, and his offensive rebound led to a three-point play midway through the overtime to give the Zips a 79-73 lead. Ohio never got closer than five points the rest of the way as Akron hit seven of 10 free throws in the final two minutes.

Akron center Zeke Marshall had 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. PG Alex Abreu added 16 points and nine assists. The Zips won despite Marshall fouling out with 47.4 seconds left in regulation.

“All that tells you is how tough our guys are,” Dambrot said.

Walter Offutt had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Ohio, and Reggie Keely chipped in 10 points. Travis Wilkins added 12 points off the bench.

The Bobcats were explosive early, and wiped out a 9-0 deficit at the game’s start with a 34-7 run over a 13-minute span.

“I thought the first half was as well as we’ve played in a month,” Ohio coach Jim Christian said. “In the second half, we got caught up in the emotion and came out of character.

“And they just out toughed us in the last three minutes.”

Akron used a 15-0 run early in the second half to wipe out the deficit, and led 63-57 with less than eight minutes remaining. But Ohio responded behind Cooper, whose back-to-back deep 3s knotted the game again at 63-63.

The Zips led by four, 72-68, with 1:06 left in regulation, but Ohio found a way to extend the game. Keely scored inside with 47 seconds left, and Ohio got the ball back with 12 seconds remaining. Offutt missed a 3-pointer, but Jon Smith’s tip-in came with seven-tenths of a second left on the clock and the game went to overtime.

In extra time, the Zips scored first and never looked back. And now Akron is firmly entrenched as the team to beat in the MAC Tournament. The Bobcats need help if they want a regular-season title, but are likely to see the Zips again – in Cleveland.

“(The regular season) is pretty much out of our hands now,” Offutt said. “We just have to continue to get better.”