The Miami University men’s basketball squad faced a big, tall challenge Saturday afternoon and nearly conquered it.
The RedHawks ultimately lost to visiting Akron 54-50 before a crowd of 1,698 at Millett Hall, but gained some David vs. Goliath respect by going right at the bigger Zips with their guard-oriented lineup.
MU coach John Cooper said that kind of mind-set should be on display every day.
“You don’t need to have your butt out there if you’re going to be intimidated,” Cooper said. “Akron’s a good basketball team that’s well-coached, make no mistake about it. Their winning ways, it is a culture that Keith (Dambrot) has built and a testament to what he’s been able to do there. But the intimidation thing … I understand when people talk about that, but you play the game. That’s the bottom line. If you’re scared, there’s no need in going out there.”
Miami won the battle of the boards for the fourth straight game, limiting Akron’s 7-foot center, Zeke Marshall, to nine points and five rebounds. The Mid-American Conference’s all-time leader in blocked shots did reject four MU shots and altered numerous others.
“When he goes out, it’s a different game,” Cooper said. “To be able to protect the rim like he does is an unbelievable thing to have on your side.”
“He’s one of the best shot blockers in college basketball, or shot changers, whatever you want to say,” Dambrot said. “Now they put some up over him today, which was impressive. (But) that Zeke factor is a big deal, even if he scores no points. People have no idea.”
Cooper credited Drew McGhee and Vince Legarza for their interior defense against Marshall. The 6-11 McGhee matched his season high with six boards and scored 10 points, only his third double-figure effort of the year.
“I really don’t like Akron too much, and I wanted to knock them off today,” said McGhee, a northeast Ohio native who hails from North Ridgeville. “I just went out and played the best I could in the minutes that I had.”
And what about Miami’s sudden stretch of rebounding success?
“It’s just a mentality of toughness and knowing that we can get every rebound as long as we give a better effort than the other team,” McGhee said.
The streak continues: Akron didn’t live up to its billing as a mid-major darling Saturday, yet still found a way to push its winning streak to 15.
Dambrot said the Zips haven’t been a great team of late. They trailed Miami 25-16 at halftime.
“We ran in mud,” Dambrot said. “We’re lucky that we played good-enough defense in the first half to stay in the game. Even when I was at Ashland, you went through streaks for two, three weeks where you feel like you’re good, but you’re kind of a half-step slow. I feel like we’ve been like that for three or four games in a way. Where you’re trying like crazy, but we’re just not quite right.
“I felt like we got tired very quickly today. Our bench hurt us early on. It usually helps.”
So how did Akron get the job done once again?
“I think it’s will to win,” Dambrot said. “You can sit there and coach your whole life, but when push comes to shove, when it’s crunch time, it’s intangibles. It’s guys that have been in a lot of games and won a lot of games, that believe they’re going to win, that have enough ability to win.”
Zips junior forward Demetrius Treadwell shook his head in disgust as he contemplated his team’s 24-percent shooting in the first half.
“It really is just unexcusable,” Treadwell said. “We’ve got to be prepared for 40 minutes every night. We can’t pick and choose when we play. We’ve got to stop doing that. We’re going to get ourselves in trouble one of these games.”
Added Akron senior guard Brian Walsh, “We know everybody’s going to come out and give their best shots against us because we’re the top dog. We’ve got to prepare better and be more emotionally ready when the game starts. Good things happen when we match the opponent’s intensity.”
Turning it over: The RedHawks’ 18 turnovers were distressing to Cooper. Ten came in the second half, and several came down the stretch.
“Akron did a good job of defending, but I thought those turnovers were careless turnovers,” the MU coach said. “They were turnovers that did not have to happen. It’s called being a basketball player and not panicking. Sometimes if you’ll just relax a little bit, the defense will open up the alley for you to make the pass instead of feeling that you have to rush it or force it.
“I thought our defense affected them. I thought we defended them well enough. We turned the ball over too much.”
Dambrot credited Miami for its first-half performance. MU’s style of play was a little bit of a surprise to the veteran coach.
“I think they caught us a little off-guard by tempo control,” Dambrot said. “They’re not really a tempo-control team. They’re more of an up-and-down running team, and they made us guard through the clock, which everybody’s been doing. It’s been successful against us.”
Notebook: Will Felder scored seven points for the RedHawks, ending his streak of 12 straight games in double figures. … Point guard Quinten Rollins led Miami with seven rebounds, but also racked up eight turnovers in 36 minutes. … The Zips’ 15-game winning streak is their longest since posting 21 consecutive wins in 1958-59.