On Saturday night, 5,403 fans filled the James A. Rhodes Arena.
The celebration was the result of two different comebacks pieced together by the Zips (15-4, 6-0 MAC), willing their way to a 68-64 win over the Buffalo Bulls (7-13, 2-4 MAC).
“They had us knocked out in the first half, and then we caught enough air that we recovered,” said head coach Keith Dambrot, who compared the game to a boxing match. “We almost got a technical knockout again in the beginning of the second half.”
Though the 20-point deficit was shrunk to six by the end of the first half, the Bulls’ quick second-half start swelled the lead back up to 15. It was then that Dambrot went unconventional and switched to a zone defense.
The outcome was a 19-0 scoring run over a six-minute period, as his team took a 61-56 advantage with 5:31 to go in the game.
It was the Zips’ first lead since a Demetrius Treadwell layup made it 2-0 to start the game. They would not trail the rest of the way.
“We played three possessions of zone all year in 18 games coming in,” said Dambrot. “It saved us in the second half.”
The win did not come without a battle.
Akron was clinging to a 63-59 lead with 1:25 to play, when the Bulls’ Jarryn Skeete buried an open three-pointer and was fouled on the play with the chance to make it even at 63.
The free throw could not find the bottom of the hoop, with Akron regaining possession.
Though they would come up empty with the ball, a pair of defensive stops and clutch free-throw shooting would bring the four-point win.
“We hung in there and survived the punches,” said Dambrot.
It marked the biggest comeback for an Akron team since they erased a 17-point deficit against Youngstown State on Nov. 26, 2005.
The win made it 11 straight for UA, which is now the second-longest active streak in the nation behind Kansas, at 17.
Point guard Alex Abreu, along with Treadwell, led the Zips with 13 points apiece. Treadwell paired his scoring with a team-high seven rebounds. Skeete led all scorers with 19 points and was the key piece in Buffalo shooting 9-for-9 from the field to start the game.
The Zips will travel to Bowling Green (7-12, 2-4 MAC) on Wednesday looking to keep their conference record unscathed before hosting Ohio (15-5, 6-0) on Saturday.