University of Akron men's basketball: Northern Illinois bench revs it up to sink Zips 67-65
Northern Illinois showed that losing teams have nothing to lose when cornered.
With a 1-9 record, that may have been the predicament in which the Huskies found themselves when facing the University of Akron Tuesday afternoon in a Mid-American Conference men’s basketball game.
After the Zips — who endured a seven-hour bus ride to get to DeKalb, Illinois, to play the game — tied the score at 65-65 on point guard Loren Cristian Jackson's layup with 13 seconds to play, the Huskies’ Darius Beane hit the game-winning shot on a step-back jumper with one second left.
A steal on the inbound then sealed the Zips' 67-65 loss.
“We didn’t make enough shots today and I thought we got good ones,” UA coach John Groce said. “Let’s face it: We shot 46% from the free-throw line and missed three 1-and-1s. We had our chances."
Ali Ali led the Zips (4-3, 2-2) with 15 points and five rebounds. The Huskies’ Trendon Hankerson and Justin Lee, producing a career high, matched him in points. Lee also added a career-high 11 rebounds for a double-double.
Hankerson’s most important contribution may have been his defense on Jackson, who averages more than 22 points. Pestered by Hankerson, Jackson managed just 10 points, although he did dish out seven assists to get his teammates involved.
“He’s a good defender,” Groce said of Hankerson. “It wasn’t just today. We had it on the scouting report that he’s a good on- and off-the-ball defender. He moves his feet well. He’s got good size. He’s physical. He did a tremendous job making it difficult on C-Jack today. In every single game he’s going to get their best guy or one of their best guys defensively.”
After appearing to produce some nearly instant mojo in building a 10-point lead in the game’s first five minutes, the Zips were outscored 24-17 the rest of the first half and led just 31-28 at halftime. In other words, they found themselves in a dogfight.
When it looked as if UA had found a groove with an 8-0 run to take a 44-36 second-half lead, the Huskies stormed back with a run of their own to go on top 51-50. Northern Illinois never trailed again.
One telling statistic in the game was the Huskies' 41-33 rebounding advantage, Groce said.
“They’re hard to keep off the glass,” he said. “They're good at it. We did it for a while, but the dam broke a little bit in the second half.”
But the determining factor was Northern Illinois' dominance off the bench, as the Zips reserves were outscored 34-15.
“At the end of the day, the difference in the game was they got 34 points from three guys [Lee, Chinedu Kingsley Okanu, Nathan Scott] that collectively average six points per game," Groce said. "... So let’s give their bench guys credit. Lee, Scott and Chinedu were terrific. To me that was [the] difference [in the] game.”
It was a rare case in which the Zips , coming off a 71-59 loss to Eastern Michigan, played better but still lost, Groce said.
“I thought we played better than on Saturday, but it just wasn’t good enough,” he said.
Toledo at Akron
Time: 2 p.m. Saturday
TV/Radio: ESPN+/WHLO (640-AM)