The Zips knew the importance of entering their upcoming six-game stretch against teams from weaker Mid-American Conference West Division with some momentum.
Akron suffered a tough road loss to Buffalo on Jan. 18, then trailed 42-34 at home to rival Kent State on Jan. 21. The Golden Flashes finished the opening half with a 19-6 run, seemingly taking control of the game.
"We got punched in the gut, and I didn't know if we were going to recover or not. We just emotionally looked like we were done," Akron coach Keith Dambrot said.
The Zips responded as a veteran team should, with a dominating second-half effort, utilizing a 28-6 run to post an 84-75 triumph over Kent State.
"We realized that we can't give up that many points in the first half," Akron guard Chauncey Gilliam said. "We looked up at the scoreboard, and I think it was 42 points we gave up in the first half. That's unacceptable, so we had to kick it up a little bit."
The Zips solidified their status as one of the conference's elite with the comeback victory, and they stayed atop the East standings as the lone team with one conference loss through Jan. 22.
Akron sophomore forward Nick Harney remains one of the biggest surprises in the country. Harney sparked the comeback victory over Kent State by scoring 19 of his career-high 21 points in the second half. Harney made 10 of 12 shots from the field in 14 minutes. Harney's ability to score points and take over games in limited playing time is essential for a deep Akron team without a standout scorer.
Harney had yet to start a game this year, but moved into second place on the team in scoring through Jan. 22, increasing his average to 10.4 points per game. Harney ranked seventh on the team in minutes played, averaging 16.3 minutes in 14 games.
"I just think I reached that point that every player has," Harney said of his second-half effort against Kent State. "You've just competed so long, you feel like you just lifted a weight off you, and the tempo is high and you're just playing your heart out. It's just passion."
NOTES, QUOTESHuge half for Harney
--Sophomore forward Nick Harney scored more points in the second half of Akron's victory over Kent State on Jan. 21 than he had in any other game of his entire career. Harney exploded for 19 of his 21 points after halftime, topping his previous high of 15 points. Harney lifted his scoring average to 10.4 points in 14 games played this season. Harney is providing points in bunches when taking in account he ranked seventh on the team in minutes played at 16.3 minutes per contest through Jan. 21.
--Junior forward Chauncey Gilliam is often overlooked due to Akron's solid frontcourt and deep roster. He is a solid player who started 13 of Akron's first 19 games this season. Gilliam came up big during a key moment with his teammates struggling, hitting five of his seven shots to score 11 points in a come-from-behind victory over Kent State.
BY THE NUMBERS: 275 -- The Zips had totaled 275 turnovers through Jan. 22, averaging 14.5 per contest. Coincidentally, Akron's opponents had turned the ball over 275 times, too.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They started playing stagnant and just trying to create for themselves and not really playing like they were in the first half. They got out of their game, it seemed like." -- Akron sophomore Nick Harney, on Kent State's play during the Zips' second-half comeback.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNELTHIS WEEK'S GAMES:--at Ball State, Jan. 24KEY MATCHUPS: The Cardinals have four players averaging between 8.5 points and 16.9 points per game, but Akron undoubtedly will concentrate on stopping Jarrod Jones, who averages 16.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Jones can dominate games scoring and rebounding. The 6-foot-9, 234-pounder is a tough guard for most teams, but Akron center Zeke Marshall can neutralize Jones if he stays out of foul trouble.
--at Central Michigan, Jan. 28
KEY MATCHUPS: The Chippewas have been in a tailspin, losing three straight games after falling to Western Michigan. Sophomore guard Trey Zeigler poses problems for Akron's guards with his shooting, size and driving. Zeigler, one of the top players in the country during his senior prep season, tops the Chippewas in scoring, averaging 16.0 points and attempting 116 free throws through Jan. 22.
FUTURES MARKET: Six-foot-7 sophomore forward Nick Harney has the potential to become one of the best players in the conference in the next few years. Harney missed the first five games this year but adjusted rather nicely to playing major college basketball despite sitting out last year. Harney scored 19 of his career-high 21 points in the second half to spark Akron to a comeback victory over rival Kent State on Jan. 21. Harney was making the most of his limited playing time, ranking second on the team in scoring at 10.4 points per game despite playing 16.3 minutes a contest through Jan. 22.
--Junior F Quincy Diggs has led the Zips in scoring in two of the last five games through Jan. 22. Diggs, a valuable player due to his ability to help out at many positions, scored 17 points in a loss at Buffalo on Jan. 18 after leading the Zips with 14 points in a win at Miami-Ohio on Jan. 7.
--Senior F Nikola Cvetinovic made a habit of leading the Zips in scoring and rebounding in the same game last year. With the emergence of sophomore F Nick Harney and the added development of junior C Zeke Marshall, Cvetinovic had led the Zips in scoring and rebounding in just three games this season through Jan. 22.