The James A. Rhodes Arena is a great place to watch a basketball game.
This is not a consensus, or even a majority, opinion. Many Akron Zips supporters curse the 5,500-seat gym commonly known as The JAR for its sightlines in some areas and its lack of suites. Simultaneously, they hope for Hephaestus, the Greek god of public works projects, to toss them a twice-as-large facility, which is seen as needed for the program to reach that ever-elusive "next level."
To me though, the JAR is fantastic. Lower reserved tickets, almost always available for walk-ups on game day (perhaps Akron fans should worry about filling the JAR before asking for 5,000 more seats) really only have two drawbacks: They're rather pricey at $30 a pop and, unless you're past your 60th birthday, you'll probably be at least a decade younger than the median age of those around you. However, there's no price tag or age limit on actually experiencing the game, as opposed to attending it.
For Akron, the game I experienced had all the trimmings of a traditional trap game. Two days later, the Zips were scheduled to head to Morgantown, W.Va. in search of a Big East pelt and a significant blow in the MAC's battle for a second tournament bid. For Detroit's part, the Titans were coming off an overtime win against Austin Peay in which they blew a 17-point lead before hanging on in overtime. I suppose they could be seen as on an emotional high, although the emotion in question was probably relief.
Prior to the tip, the buzz among the greyhairs in the nearly 28-year-old gym's first thirteen rows concerned the university's American-style football coach Rob Ianello, dismissed earlier in the day after a pair of 1-11 seasons. It probably should have revolved around starting point guard Alex Abreu, suspended for an undetermined length of time due to the vague but all-too-familiar "violation of team rules." Akron's season was at an early crossroads - the season's first red-line upset, over Mississippi State, was bookended by a pair of losses in winnable games against Valparaiso and Duquesne. Combine that with the absence coming at a particularly vulnerable position, and Abreu's suspension could have been disastrous against a Titans team picked as one of the Horizon League favorites (including a prediction of first over mighty Butler by The Sporting News).
To the relief of the home crowd, the spot was filled capably, but not perfectly, by a combination of slashing wing player Quincy Diggs, Xavier transfer Brian Walsh and true freshman Adedeji Ibitayo. Their counterpart, Detroit's Ray McCallum - a coach's kid who has otherwise earned his spot - struggled to just six points and five turnovers. The result: A seat on the bench next to his father and two of his teammates for a particularly long stretch of the second half.
Yes, I said two. Detroit only had eight players dressed for the game, a number matched by the coaches and support staff wearing suits on the bench, although the non-players outnumber players if you toss in the stuff-made-of-windbreaker set. The Titans, I imagine, felt a little like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo, although at least Crockett and Bowie had home-court advantage.
That rather extreme depth crisis started to take its toll late in the first half, and thanks to a breakout both-ends-of-the-court performance by Nick Harney in his fifth game as a Zip and a usual sturdy effort from Serbian senior Nikola Cvetinovic, a tight game became a formality for the final 25 minutes. Chase Simon, McCallum's running mate at guard for the Titans, did his best to keep his team afloat by not missing much of anything all game long. In the end though, his 27 points were outweighed by the six Akronites who scored more than Detroit's second-highest total.
As I left the parking garage, the car immediately in front of me in the queue had Michigan plates with the number "2TITANS." My first thought was to feel bad that the vehicle's inhabitants traveled three-plus hours to witness a clunky loss by their school of choice. My second was to wonder whether any of them had a serviceable inside game and remaining eligibility.
at AKRON 81, DETROIT 63 11/26/2011
DETROIT 3-4 (0-0) -- C. Simon 10-15 4-5 27; J. Calliste 2-8 2-2 7; L. Lowe 4-9 1-1 9; D. Anderson 1-6 4-4 6; R. McCallum 2-7 2-2 6; D. Foster 3-5 0-1 6; E. Bruinsma 1-3 0-0 2; P. Boutte 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-54 13-15 63. AKRON 3-2 (0-0) -- Z. Marshall 5-6 1-3 11; N. Cvetinovic 6-8 3-7 16; B. McClanahan 4-7 1-1 12; Q. Diggs 3-8 2-2 8; B. Walsh 3-4 0-0 8; N. Harney 7-10 1-1 15; C. Gilliam 3-9 0-0 7; D. Treadwell 0-4 0-0 0; A. Ibitayo 1-3 0-0 3; J. Egner 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 32-59 9-16 81.
Three-point goals: UDM 4-12 (C. Simon 3-5; J. Calliste 1-6; R. McCallum 0-1), AKR 8-16 (C. Gilliam 1-3; B. Walsh 2-2; B. McClanahan 3-5; N. Cvetinovic 1-1; Q. Diggs 0-3; A. Ibitayo 1-2); Rebounds: UDM 20 (C. Simon 7), AKR 33 (Z. Marshall 6); Assists: UDM 10 (R. McCallum 4), AKR 15 (N. Cvetinovic 4); Total Fouls -- UDM 17, AKR 17; Fouled Out: UDM-None; AKR-None.