We all know the big rivalries in sports -- Duke-North Carolina, Ohio State-Michigan, USC-UCLA, etc. However, there are also some schools that are not main rivals, but whenever the two get together it truly feels like a rivalry.
Akron's main rival is Kent State, and Ohio's main rival is Miami University. Whenever the Zips and Bobcats hook up on the hardwood, though, it seems like a big rivalry. These two teams always seem to get up for each other and play tough, physical, grind-it-out games. Akron coach Keith Dambrot said in the pregame that there is "no love lost" between them and "our guys don't like them, and their guys don't like us." This game was no different, as the physicality of the two teams was present throughout the entire 40 minutes.
Coming into the game, the main draw for the casual fan was the matchup of arguably the two best point guards in the MAC -- Ohio's D.J. Cooper and Akron's Alex Abreu. Ask any MAC coach, and I'm sure they would love to have Cooper or Abreu leading his team into battle. Both are grinders; they play a lot of minutes, are always diving on the floor and get physically beat up every game. Seeing them among the trees in the paint is commonplace, and their quick hands often lead to turnovers. They were both expected to play a huge role in this game, and the prospect of going head-to-head with each other certainly added the fuel to the fire.
As mentioned before, physicality was the main theme of this game. Two minutes into the game, Ohio forward Jon Smith had two fouls. Akron was in the bonus with eight minutes left in the first half, and the fouls kept coming. Ohio's Reggie Keely picked up two. Then Walter Offutt. Then T.J. Hall. Then Cooper. For a team with a thin bench, this was not a good thing. This is where Akron's depth helped them. The Zips committed fouls, but they were more spread out among the lineup.
Unfortunately for the Zips, they could not capitalize on playing the Bobcats' second team. The lead was never more than five for either team in the first half, and after Ohio's Nick Kellogg (Clark's son) hit a 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer, the Bobcats led by one at 30-29.
One halftime stat was surprising: Akron had attempted more free throws (17) than field goals (16), which I could not remember ever seeing before.
The second half had much of the same flavor as the first. Not even 15 seconds into the second half, Smith picked up his third foul. Then Offutt. Then Keely. And that was before the under-16 media timeout. It was amazing to see the number of calls being made, and while some of them were iffy, most were good hard ones.
The Zips fans that were among the 4,661 in attendance started to feel a little nervous when Offutt made a layup off an Abreu turnover that gave the Bobcats a five-point lead at 49-44. But the Zips started making their shots, and the Bobcats didn't. Ohio went the final 6:36 without making a field goal (save for a layup with two seconds left). The Zips got every defensive rebound and made enough freebies at the end to ensure the victory.
The final six minutes also saw four Bobcats and one Zip foul out. A total of 51 fouls were called, including three technicals after some jawing between Cooper and Zeke Marshall led to some elbowing. It was clear that these guys are not good friends, and the referees should have been prepared for that. The game got out of hand late with the techs, and hopefully this was a learning experience for the guys in black and white.
The Cooper versus Abreu showdown never really came about, as neither was much of a factor. Cooper ended up with 13 points on 2-of-15 shooting and four fouls. Abreu's first points came on a huge 3-pointer with four minutes left that put the Zips ahead 59-57. He ended up with as many points as turnovers, amassing five of each. Although they might not have played the type of game they wanted to, both will be looking forward to Feb. 25 when they meet again in Athens.
This win puts the Zips in the driver's seat of the MAC East at 3-0. Ohio drops to 1-2 and needs to start winning on the road if it wants to be a factor in the conference race. The rugged MAC East schedule continues Wednesday when Akron travels to Buffalo and Ohio welcomes Kent State to the Convocation Center.
at AKRON 68, OHIO 63 01/14/2012
OHIO 13-4 (1-2) -- D. Cooper 2-15 8-9 13; I. Baltic 5-17 0-1 10; N. Kellogg 3-8 2-2 11; W. Offutt 5-7 1-4 11; R. Johnson 1-1 1-3 3; T. Hall 1-3 0-0 2; R. Keely 3-5 0-0 6; T. Goard 1-2 2-2 4; S. Taylor 1-4 0-0 3; J. Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-62 14-21 63. AKRON 11-6 (3-0) -- A. Abreu 2-5 0-0 5; Z. Marshall 5-7 7-11 17; B. Walsh 1-6 2-2 5; Q. Diggs 2-3 2-6 7; N. Cvetinovic 2-8 4-6 8; N. Harney 3-5 4-6 10; B. McClanahan 2-4 6-6 10; D. Treadwell 1-2 2-5 4; C. Gilliam 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 18-40 29-44 68.
Three-point goals: OHIO 5-21 (I. Baltic 0-2; D. Cooper 1-6; T. Hall 0-2; N. Kellogg 3-8; T. Goard 0-1; S. Taylor 1-2), AKR 3-11 (B. Walsh 1-3; B. McClanahan 0-1; N. Cvetinovic 0-1; Q. Diggs 1-2; A. Abreu 1-4); Rebounds: OHIO 26 (W. Offutt 6), AKR 36 (B. Walsh 7); Assists: OHIO 10 (D. Cooper 4), AKR 9 (N. Cvetinovic 3); Total Fouls -- OHIO 30, AKR 21; Fouled Out: OHIO-I. Baltic; AKR-Z. Marshall.