CLEVELAND -- The University of Akron men’s basketball team has been here before.
When the top-seeded Zips take the floor against the Ball State Cardinals, the No. 5 seed, tonight at Quicken Loans Arena, it will mark the 12th straight season in which they have advanced to the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals, but that has been far easier said than done.
“What you do is you try not to put pressure on yourself,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “All we can do is prepare ourselves to play the best we can, and if the ball doesn't go in the basket or if we don't play very well, what can you do? I'm proud that we've been able to do that.”
Akron beats Eastern Michigan in MAC Tournament
Although having such consistency may be difficult, the Zips have seen plenty of success under the direction of Dambrot, who was named the MAC Coach of the Year for the second straight year on Wednesday.
Earlier this season, Dambrot won his 400th career game, as well as his 300th victory at The University of Akron on the way to leading the Zips to their second straight MAC regular-season championship and the top seed in this week’s conference tournament at Quicken Loans Arena.
With an 89-84 win over Bowling Green on January 3, Dambrot become Akron’s all-time wins leader, surpassing the previous mark of 288 set by Russell Beichly, who guided the Zips for 19 seasons from 1941-1959.
During the regular season, Akron posted a 24-7 record, including a 14-4 slate in MAC play, which marked the 12th straight season the Zips have won at least 21 games. Along with Akron, only Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and Ohio State have posted 11 straight 21-win seasons.
Dambrot has guided the Zips to a 20-5 record in their last 25 MAC Tournament games.
“Every, single year, you could be on the cusp of being the best team in the league and not win the tournament,” Dambrot said. “I mean, all you've got to do is look at the history. There's some teams that haven't been to the tournament since 1980.”
After a slow start in which they made only two of their first seven looks from the field and one of three attempts from the free-throw line, the top-seeded Zips found a rhythm offensively, settled down on the defensive rebounds and rode that momentum to a 79-62 win over the No. 8-seeded Eastern Michigan Eagles at Quicken Loans Arena Thursday afternoon.
Senior center Isaiah Johnson led the way for the Zips (25-7) with 24 points on eight-of-14 shooting from the field coupled with an eight-of-14 showing at the free-throw line. The 2017 MAC Player of the Year, Johnson added 10 rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and one steal over 37 minutes of play.
“Just coming out with more focus, just coming out and giving our all, a hundred percent,” Johnson said. “I want to say with six games left, the coach brought us all together and said we've got to be the best of the teams from here on out. We took that to heart.”