Keith Dambrot will be making his third appearance in the NCAA tournament this week, yet never has a postseason felt this good to the Akron head coach.
“This is the best one by far,” said Dambrot in the postgame press conference. “To do what we did under the circumstances…you can’t even compare it.”
After the loss of point guard Alex Abreu in the regular-season finale just a week prior, the Zips’ improbable run landed them in the Big Dance. This time around they plan on doing some damage.
“I’m trying to win the NCAA tournament. I feel like there’s nothing that can stop us,” said center Zeke Marshall. “You’ve seen the adversity we hit a week ago losing our starting point [guard], and we were still able to do what we needed to get wins.”
Marshall is the only player on the roster with NCAA tournament experience. The senior will look for support like he got Saturday night, as a stingy defensive effort limited Ohio to 17 second-half points.
Trailing 29-26 at halftime, the Zips dominated by shutting down star point guard D.J. Cooper (3 points, 0-of-8 from the field) and the rest of the Bobcats.
“Sometimes we look like we’re slopping it around on offense, but we played a great defensive game,” said Dambrot.
Ohio finished the night 18-of-54 from the field (33.3 percent) and 1-of-20 from behind the three-point line (5 percent).
Akron got a spark offensively from Demetrius Treadwell and Chauncey Gilliam, each scoring a team-high 13 points. Treadwell’s relentless effort led to a double-double (10 rebounds) and the MAC tournament Most Valuable Player award.
“This MVP of the tournament really doesn’t mean anything. Maybe 20 years from now,” said Treadwell. “Right now I’m just happy we won and we’re moving on to the NCAA tournament.”
The expectation to make a lasting impact and win in the tournament is felt throughout the program.
“I think the key is, this is the best team we’re taking,” said Dambrot. “This is my school, where I went, where my mother was a professor, and I won’t accept anything except greatness.”
The Zips now sit at 26-6 on the season after rallying to beat Kent State 62-59 on Friday and the victory over Ohio on Saturday. Akron’s 26 wins ties the school record for most wins in a season (1971-72, 2006-07).