Oxford, Ohio, is your quintessential small college town. There are tree-lined streets and older residential homes surrounded by college dive bars, off-campus party signs attached to telephone poles, and a stereotypical brick-building campus of higher education. Miami University is located here. Miami usually has identity crisis syndrome at a national level (seen on a t-shirt at the bookstore -- Miami was a university when Florida belonged to Spain), but it is fiercely aggressive at promoting its legacy as an academic "public Ivy" mixed in with the fabled "Cradle of Coaches."
Akron, Ohio, is the seventh largest city in Ohio. Akron, historically known for the production of anything rubber and recently the home of LeBron James, has its own identity crisis. Nestled in the shadow of Cleveland, Akron accepts the fact that no matter what they do, they will be attached to Cleveland and relatively ignores anything attached to the city. However, east of the downtown area, sits a sprawling, urban university, that is neither spectacular, nor eye-appealing. Even more, a little-known fact is that the University of Akron is the third-largest university in the state of Ohio.
Tonight in Oxford, Akron comes to Miami in a MAC East tilt. The two teams are promoted as rivals, while in reality there just is complete different viewpoints. Miami is viewed as the upper-crest snooties, when Akron is viewed as the street-smart underdogs. In 2007, the Snooties upset a 26-4 Underdogs team in the MAC Championship game when Doug Penno nailed a 30-foot prayer at the buzzer. Since then, the Zips and Redhawks have played in some fierce games both in Oxford and in Akron.
Not only are the differences noticeable on both campus sites, the play of the teams are completely opposite. Akron is aggressive, full-tilt, run up and down the floor and pressing on defense. Keith Dambrot's style allows for multiple substitutions, physical play, and and majority of the time being in your face. Miami is as conservative as white bread. Charlie Coles subscribes to the Norman Dale philosophy of five passes before you shoot and to the Bobby Knight theory that zone defenses have no place in college basketball. Coles has an extensive knowledge of basketball, and you can take his class (PHS 336 - Coaching Techniques and Theory) in the fall semester.
Millett Hall is the stage tonight for tonight's game. Millett has to be one of the most plush arenas in college basketball. In the main auditorium, the entire floor is carpet (save the basketball court) and the seats are padded. It's like watching a game in your living room. Tonight, the Miami student section is virtually empty, since the students are still on winter break. In an effort in increase attendance, tonight's game admission includes a hot dog, popcorn and a large soda. It didn't work.
Miami's other identity crisis is local. Both Dayton and Cincinnati have their own college teams, and Miami is usually left out of the local papers and late local news save for a line item. In another way to increase the look, Millett Hall has large areas tarped off to push the attendance towards the court. Still, only about 1,500 people are seated in an arena that maxes out at 5,500.
The game tips off, and Charlie Coles smiles. Julian Mavunga, Miam's all-MAC forward is having his way with Zeke Marshall, Akron's seven-foot center. Miami strikes early, but Akron presses and rushes too much. Finally, Dambrot gets the Zips on the same page, and Akron takes a 6-4 lead at the first media timeout. Miami slows the pace down a little more, but each team trades baskets and with a little over seven minutes to go, Akron has a 15-13 lead.
Then, the unthinkable happened. The world stopped on its axis. Charlie Coles plays zone.
For the next seven minutes, Marshall is stopped in his tracks. He's the guy standing at the bus stop and never gets on. Miami goes on a 16-10 run and takes a four-point lead into the intermission. Marshall is held to no Points, one rebound, and no blocked shots. At the horn, Dambrot looks to the heavens wondering what is going on.
The second half starts, and Akron looks lost. Dambrot finally loses his temper and yanks all five players on the floor. Miami starts the half on a 7-0 run to cause the Miami faithful to yell. Not to cause any more cardiac arrest, Coles goes man-to-man.
At the 11-minute mark in the second half, Dambrot, who played 11 guys this evening, finally hits a combination that works. Qunicy Diggs, an athletic 6-foot-4 wing, takes over the point from 5-foot-9 Alex Abreu. Miami can't prevent Diggs from slashing and passing. By the time Miami catches its breath, Akron is up five with four to go.
Still, Akron is winning despite Marshall doing absolutely nothing. For Miami, it's the complete opposite, as Mavunga is doing everything and his teammates are doing nothing. Mavunga singlehandedly ties the game. Diggs slashes for two, and the Zips are back up.
Then, Marshall shows up. On a play where Miami could tie the game with less than 95 seconds to go, Marshall blocks his first shot of the game that ends up in the hands of Brian Walsh, and Akron hits their last five free throws to win.
Dambrot exhales. Coles still smiles. Two teams walk off the court, two different philosophies headed to the same goal...and a rematch in February.
AKRON 65, at MIAMI (OH.) 60 01/07/2012
AKRON 9-6 (1-0) -- A. Abreu 1-2 4-6 6; Z. Marshall 1-4 0-0 2; B. Walsh 4-7 2-2 13; Q. Diggs 5-11 4-5 14; N. Cvetinovic 2-4 1-2 6; C. Gilliam 2-4 1-2 6; D. Treadwell 2-8 0-2 4; B. McClanahan 1-4 0-0 3; N. Harney 4-6 2-2 11; A. Ibitayo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 14-21 65. MIAMI (OH.) 4-9 (0-1) -- J. Harris 3-10 0-0 6; J. Mavunga 7-11 7-8 23; Q. Rollins 1-5 0-0 2; D. McGhee 3-6 0-0 6; B. Sullivan 5-7 2-2 14; J. Sewell 4-6 0-0 9; W. Sullivan 0-0 0-0 0; V. Legarza 0-1 0-0 0; A. Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-46 9-10 60.
Three-point goals: AKR 7-12 (C. Gilliam 1-1; B. Walsh 3-4; B. McClanahan 1-2; N. Cvetinovic 1-1; Q. Diggs 0-2; A. Abreu 0-1; N. Harney 1-1), MIO 5-14 (J. Mavunga 2-3; J. Harris 0-3; Q. Rollins 0-1; J. Sewell 1-3; B. Sullivan 2-4); Rebounds: AKR 22 (D. Treadwell 5), MIO 28 (J. Mavunga 14); Assists: AKR 9 (A. Abreu 6), MIO 6 (Q. Rollins 3); Total Fouls -- AKR 13, MIO 17; Fouled Out: AKR-None; MIO-Q. Rollins.