Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 1/4/12
The Zips showed some character by rebounding from a frustrating 76-75 overtime home loss to Virginia Commonwealth, which made the Final Four last year, on Dec. 29. The hard-fought emotional loss didn't spill over to Akron's next game, with the Zips bouncing back by cruising to a 67-51 triumph at Marshall on Jan. 1.The Zips avoided entering Mid-American Conference play at Miami-Ohio on Jan. 7 with two straight losses and a .500 record. The Zips had their 14-game home winning streak snapped against VCU, which was tied for the 13th longest active streak in the nation at the time. The Zips started the month of January in traditional strong fashion, at least during coach Keith Dambrot's era. Under the eighth year coach, the Zips have posted a 43-19 mark after beating the Thundering Herd in their first New Year's Day game in program history.Akron gets a long break to work out some issues and nurse back to health before taking on Miami-Ohio. The Zips don't get a break by the schedule-makers, opening up three of their first four and five of their first seven league games on the road. The rugged stretch is crucial for the Zips to establish themselves after losing several standouts from last year's MAC Tournament championship squad.The Zips have followed the same formula as last year through 13 games. The Zips have had six different players leading the team in scoring, with only one player -- Zeke Marshall -- leading the way in the scoring column in consecutive games. The Zips have fixed their troubling free throw problems, something that might help them during conference action. Akron opened the season making just 58.4 percent of its free throw attempts, but made 147-of-209 attempts in the last nine games through Jan. 1.Akron's defense is leading the way entering league play. The Zips defeated Marshall by holding the hosts to 31.3 percent shooting, including 18.2 percent from three-point territory. Akron's defense has been stout on stopping teams from shooting a high percentage from beyond the arc, limiting opponents to 29.0 percent entering the Marshall contest. Currently, including the Marshall victory, the Zips have held eight opponents to under 30 percent from three-point land.NOTES, QUOTES--Junior center Zeke Marshall has been a force in the paint over a five-game stretch heading into the New Year's Day contest at Marshall. The 7-footer averaged 4.4 blocks during the five-game span, while tallying 17 games with four or more blocks. Marshall blocked two shots at Marshall to extend his total to 52 career multi-block games.--Sophomore guard Alex Abreu is back to help steady Akron's offense after enduring some personal and health issues earlier in the season. Abreu is recording a steal 5.07 percent of the time while on the court through the first 13 games, ranking second in the MAC and 30th in the country through Dec. 30 in that category. Abreu had 10 points and six assists in Akron's win at Marshall.--Junior forward Chauncey Gilliam is putting up better numbers after getting inserted into the starting lineup. Heading into the Marshall game, the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder was averaging 7.9 points as a starter and 2.7 points coming off the bench. Gilliam added to those numbers by scoring 12 points in a starter's role at Marshall.BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- For the second time this season, Akron will play six of eight games on the road. The Zips opened the season with six of their first eight games away from Rhodes Arena, sporting a 3-5 mark after the eight-game stretch. Akron opened its current road swing at Marshall on Jan. 1.QUOTE TO NOTE: "He kind of set the whole philosophy for the whole program. He's 26 when he started and he says to this old, middle-aged guy, 'We're going to get high-character guys, we're not taking any junior college guys, we're going to do it right, we're going to win with character. We can turn this thing around.' You don't hear many young people say that. They're worried about getting their next job." -- Akron coach Keith Dambrot on former Akron assistant and current VCU coach Shaka Smart's influence on his program.STRATEGY AND PERSONNELTHIS WEEK'S GAMES:--at Miami-Ohio, Jan. 7KEY MATCHUPS: The Zips won't lack any rest when they play their first Mid-American Conference game of the season, playing their first game since a New Year's Day contest at Marshall. The Zips no doubt need to watch out for Miami's Julian Mavunga. The 6-foot-8 senior forward represents a tough matchup for most teams, averaging 19.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game through Jan. 1. But the Zips have plenty of depth and size in the frontcourt. Akron center Zeke Marshall can disrupt Mavunga, but has to stay out of foul problems.FUTURES MARKET: The Zips have a nice mix of talented veterans filled with numerous young players. The Zips entered the season as one of the youngest teams in the nation with 15 players having a total of 19 seasons of collegiate experience. Akron is the 16th youngest team in Division I, with nine of the 15 players having one year or less of experience. That mixture is leading to coach Keith Dambrot utilizing several starting lineups in hopes of finding the right combination before the start of Mid-American Conference play.The Zips, who used just three starting lineups in 36 games last year, have had eight players start at least one game this year heading into their Jan. 1 contest at Marshall. So far, Akron has used five different lineups.PLAYER NOTES--Senior forward Nikola Cvetinovic is putting up his usual steady, but not flashy numbers. Cvetinovic scored a game-leading 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting at Marshall. Cvetinovic, though, had just five rebounds after registering two double-doubles in his last four contests.--Sophomore forward Demetrius Treadwell is a key contributor off the bench. Treadwell is averaging 8.5 points in 12 games this year, with all his appearances coming off the bench. Treadwell's been on a tear of late, averaging a shade under 10 points per game in his last six contests after tallying 10 points and nine rebounds in 15 minutes at Marshall.--Sophomore guard Alex Abreu underwent arthroscopic surgery before Christmas to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. Abreu returned to play a week later in Akron's overtime loss to VCU, while contributing 10 points and six assists in the victory at Marshall on Jan. 1.
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