The University at Buffalo held up inside against a bigger University of Akron team Tuesday night but could not pull off the plays in the final minute to secure an upset.
Akron got the go-ahead basket from center Isaiah Johnson with 1:25 to play and held on for a 75-71 victory at Alumni Arena.
Johnson, a 6-foot-10, 295-pound junior, scored 14 points, five in the final 3:09 to lift the Zips.
The win was the ninth straight for Akron (12-2), picked to win the MAC East Division. UB dropped to 7-7.
Akron entered the game the highest-rated team in the MAC, in the top 60 in the country. The Zips were picked in preseason to win the East Division of the MAC, and they had a distinct size advantage on UB.
The Zips got 16 points from sophomore guard Antonio Jackson and 14 from wingman Reggie McAdams.
UB was led by Willie Conner, who had 16 points. The Bulls got 15 from Blake Hamilton and 12 from Lamonte Bearden.
But the Bulls got quality minutes from Ikenna Smart, a 6-10 red-shirt freshman who was able to stay out of foul trouble.
After Johnson hit his go-ahead basket, Akron’s size inside forced Hamilton to travel in the lane. Akron added two free throws to take a four-point lead.
Even: The two teams played to a 35-35 tie in the first half. UB held its own on the backboard the first 20 minutes, getting outrebounded only 20-18. Hamilton had 11 points in the first half.
Top coach: Akron coach Keith Dambrot has led the Zips to 10 straight 20 win seasons, something only four other teams have done – Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and Ohio State. Dambrot is 263-123 over 12 seasons at Akron. The Zips are 57-18 in MAC divisional play under Dambrot.
Back in business: Two key Akron players were back from injury for the game. Center Pat Forsythe, a 6-11 preseason all-MAC East pick, missed the past three games with an ankle injury. He wasn’t 100 percent but he played about half the game. Wingman Jake Kretzer, a 6-7 senior averaging 9.5 ppg, sat out Akron’s previous game due to a concussion. . . . UB freshman forward Nick Perkins was held out of the first half. He played in the second half.
Quick healer: Sophomore Noah Robotham is back running the point for Akron just nine months after undergoing surgery to repair torn knee ligaments. Robotham was on his way to MAC freshman of the year honors when he injured his knee in mid-February. It was a big loss. He was replaced by another freshman, Antonio Jackson, who didn’t perform as well. The Robotham injury was a help to UB in its late run to the MAC title last season. Robotham sat out the first six games this season but returned on Dec. 2 and has played 30 or more minutes seven straight games. Jackson, meanwhile, is playing much better than last year. Akron uses both of them on the court at the same time roughly 50 percent of the game.
Schedules: UB has played the toughest non-conference schedule in the MAC. UB’s six non-conference losses are to teams that have a combined record of 55-19. UB’s non-conference slate ranks 77th in the nation, according to kenpom.com. Akron’s non-conference schedule ranked 261st in the nation. However, the Zips had two high-quality early-season wins. They defeated Arkansas on the road and had neutral-court wins over Iona and UC-Santa Barbara, both among the top 120 in the country.
In the house: Attendance at Alumni Arena was about 3,000.
Road warriors: UB enters a tough stretch of its schedule. The Bulls play six of their next eight games on the road. It’s a challenge, but it’s not bad timing. Four of those road games are while UB’s students are on break. You’d rather play more home games with the students in session.
Up next: UB visits Kent State Friday, travels to Eastern Michigan Tuesday before coming home to play Central Michigan on Jan. 16. Tough games. All three teams are playing like upper-half finishers in the MAC. Akron plays at home Friday against Western Michigan.