CLEVELAND -- Throughput the 2016-2017 season, the philosophy utilized by The University of Akron men’s basketball program has been simple: get the ball to center Isaiah Johnson, early and often.
And with the Zips (26-7) set to take on their archrival, the Kent State Golden Flashes, in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship Game with an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament on the line, that philosophy is not changing.
“We’ve been simple most of the season,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “We haven’t defended well most of the season. When I mean simple, just get the big guy the ball. I mean, like just get him the ball.
“I don’t care if it’s at the top of the key, the low block, the elbow, just get him the ball and play off of him, and quit messing around trying to do things yourself. That’s what I mean. I don’t think it’s a complicated sport. I think people make it complicated.”
Akron battles Ball State in the MAC Tournament Semifinals
During his final year with the program, Johnson helped lead the Zips to a 24-7 record, including a 14-4 mark in conference play, which was good enough to claim their second straight MAC regular-season championship.
Over 29.9 minutes of action in 33 starts for the Zips, Johnson averaged 16.5 points, 2.9 assists and 7.4 rebounds, including nearly three per game on the offensive end of the floor, all of which were team-highs this season.
Additionally, he has a 1.3 assists-to-turnovers ratio and shooting percentage of .630, converting better than six field goals a game. The .630 field goal percentage ranks No. 1 in the MAC and ninth nationally.
Johnson registered six double-doubles of points and rebounds during the regular season and scored in double figures in 28 of Akron’s 31 games, including 13 of the last 14 outings. Johnson scored a career-high 33 points at Central Michigan earlier in the year, becoming the 42nd player in school history to score at least 1,000 points.
“If you’ve got a guy like that, that can score, if they don’t double him and can pass if they do double him, and you surround him with shooters, it seems to me the easiest thing to do is throw him the ball and play off of him instead of coming off of ball screens or trying to play one on one,” Dambrot said.
With just one win separating the Zips from an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2013, Dambrot wants to see the same type of grit against Kent State that allowed his team to withstand multiple runs from Ball State in Friday’s semifinal matchup.
“It’s put up or go home,” Dambrot said. “I mean, I think the game of basketball is a game of spurts, right? And sometimes, things go poorly. I know it was about a 7 4 game to start the second half. We were rotten on offense, but we hung in there defensively, and then, we got going offensively, they got going offensively.
“I felt like we were in command of the game, but then, we allowed them to stay in the game, and now, you’re in the danger zone, and we were fortunate we made enough plays to get ourselves out of the danger zone.”