By Evan Meyer
The Akron Zips extended the longest current winning streak in the nation to 18 games Friday night as they defeated the North Dakota State Bison 68-53 before an electric crowd of 4,474 at Rhodes Arena.
Akron (22-4) also tied Kansas for the longest winning streak at any time during the season at 18 games, and their winning skein is he longest at the school since the team won 21 games back in 1958-59.
“I thought the key to the game was to impose our tempo on them,” UA head coach Keith Dambrot said after the game. “For stretches we played good. Maybe our best of the season.”
Senior center Zeke Marshall led four UA players in double figures with 14 points along with eight rebounds and five blocked shots. Junior forward Nick Harney added 13, sophomore forward Demetrius Treadwell had 11 points, 14 boards and two steals; while junior guard Alex Abreu had 10 with three assists.
“I thought he really dominated the game,” Dambrot said of Marshall. “He was strong offensively and really did a good job.”
When asked about Marshall’s play NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said afterwards, “Our big man (junior Marshall Bjorklund) has played against Cody Zeller (Indiana) has played against Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota)…There has not been a big man who could shut him down without doubling on him (defensively) and Zeke did that tonight and that really hurt us.”
Bjorklund came into the game averaging 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. In this game he scored just two points and had three rebounds; his lowest numbers of the season
North Dakota State (20-8) suffered their third loss in the last five games along with just being 1-4 in their last five on the road.
“We turned the ball over too many times early along with points in transition,” Phillips said “We dug ourselves too big of a hole. We made run and made some stops but against a really good team that has won 18 straight you can’t do that.”
Sophomore guard Lawrence Alexander was the lone NDSU player in double figures, leading all scorers in the contest with 19 points and seven rebounds.
“I thought he kept us in the game at times. He is a special player for us,” Phillips said. “He’s only going to get better and better. I would not trade him.”
Alexander, who has picked up the scoring for the Bison after junior Taylor Braun has missed the last nine games with a knee injury, gave his team their only lead of the game with the first basket. From that point on, it was all Zips as they scored the next 10 points; seven of which came from Harney who scored 10 in the first half.
After the visitors closed to within a point when reserve guard Mike Felt connected on a three-pointer from the right arc, UA went on an 11-2 spurt to open a 10-point lead 21-11 at the 9:56 mark when freshman Jake Kretzer found a loose ball and scored on a layup.
With UA leading 26-21at the 4:28 mark, Marshall made a steal and drove down the court and finished the play with a slam dunk. He was assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim, much to the dismay of the crowd.
“That was a tough play, he is running down the middle of the court. What was he supposed to do smash his face against the backboard? He was a seven foot runaway freight train,” Dambrot said.
When asked about the big man leading the break, Treadwell said, “He handled the ball pretty good for a seven footer, he finshed (the fast break) well and ignited the crowd.”
The play however, ignited the Zips. After Felt made the two technical free throws to close the deficit to 28-23, UA scored the last nine points of the period and went into halftime with a 37-23 lead.
The Zips shot 45.2 percent in the first half and held a decisive 24-17 rebounding edge, and turned the ball over just four times. NDSU made just 6-of-28 shots from the floor (28.6 percent) and turned the ball over eight times resulting in 12 UA points.
At the start of the second half, the Zips got baskets from Abreu and Harney to open a 19-point lead 42-23 as they completed a 16-3 run that spanned both halves.
UA then opened their largest lead of the game at 20 points, 45-25, with 17:06 remaining as Abreu connected on a three from the left arc. NDSU went 10:50 of playing time without a field goal until Felt ended the drought with a pull-up jumper.
The Zips again pushed the lead out to 20 points when Treadwell scored on a layup off the backboard 47-27. Then the Bison made a game out of it as they went on a 14-0 run to close the deficit down to six 47-41 with the last two coming from reserve Chris Kading on a putback slam dunk with 7:37 remaining.
“We expected them to make a run at us,” Treadwell said. “Even though we did not want them to make run they made a run on us and kudos to them.”
However, that would be the closest the visitors from the Summit League would get for the remainder of the game as UA weathered the storm and put together an 11-2 run to push the lead back out to 15 which eventually would be the final winning margin.
Neither team shot the ball well in the final 20 minutes as UA went 10-of-21 from the field (47.6 percent) finishing the game at 46.2percent (24-of-52). Two glaring numbers from the stat sheet though as they turned the ball over 11 times in the second half (15 for the game) and shot just 50 percent from the free throw line (14-of-28).
“Akron is good…very good,” Phillips said.
UA also won the rebound battle 43-36 as they remained perfect at home (14-0) and have won 33 of their last 35 at The JAR.
“We’re like a bull in a china shop sometimes, but we are good enough to win,” Dambrot said.
The Zips return to Mid-American Conference play on Wednesday night when they travel to Athens for their second meeting this season with the Ohio Bobcats. A game that will most likely decide the Eastern Division title, the overall MAC regular-season championship and the number one seed in the upcoming 2013 FirstEnergy MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Cleveland.
FROM EVAN’S GAMEBOOK:
KEY MOMENT: Late in the first half, Akron’s Zeke Marshal stole the ball and went down the court for a slam dunk. He was assessed a technical foul and NDSU made both free throws. From that point on, the Zips went on a 16-3 run that spanned both halves.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: DEMETRIUS TREADWELL-AKRON. The sophomore from Euclid, Ohio had 11 points in the game but pulled down 14 rebounds second most he has had this season. He had 16 caroms in the win at Kent State on January 19th.. His sixth double-double of the season.
KEY STAT OF THE GAME: 1) Akron went just 50 percent 14-of-28 from the free throw line. 2) UA’s 43 rebounds second straight game with 40 or more boards.