CLEVELAND -- If there is one place the University of Akron men's basketball team likes to play more than on their campus at the James A. Rhodes Arena, it is Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
For the ninth straight year, the Zips played in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena after fighting their way through a tough quarterfinal matchup with the Ohio Bobcats on Thursday.
"We have that winning culture," Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. "We've built the culture. We've built it from scratch. Our guys believe they're going to win. They believe they're going to win, even when they hit adversity, and I think, on most good teams, it works both directions.
"It's kind of like the closer that can't get a guy out. He has a great year the one year and then, he blows a couple saves. Pretty soon, he can't get anybody out. We hit that streak where we weren't very good. We lost those three games, and we got our guys back. We kind of got our mojo back, and you could see it when we were on the ropes. We kept punching."
Akron needed to keep punching in its quarterfinal victory over the Bobcats.
Ohio converted 10 of its 21 three-point attempts, and led by as many as eight points late in the first half, but Akron continued to chip away at the deficit. When it mattered most, Akron ratcheted up the defensive pressure and held the Bobcats from scoring from more than three minutes late in the second half.
During that stretch, the Zips turned a 67-67 tie into a 75-69 advantage, one that became an 83-77 win.
"They have that winning culture," Dambrot said of the Bobcats under the direction of Jim Christian. "I told Jim before the game, 'It's a shame we have to play so early in the tournament' because we're used to playing them at the end of the tournament. I thought they played their A game. We haven't scored 80 very often all year. That was one of our best offensive performances of the year, and we needed it in order to win the game."
With the win over Ohio, Akron has won 20 games in the MAC Tournament since 2005, the most of any team in the conference.
"Our theme for the tournament is 'Lock up.' Obviously, it didn't work very well (against Ohio), but it's also, 'Relax and enjoy,'" Dambrot said. "We've put in our hard work, and now, we should enjoy the fruits of that hard work, and that's having fun in front of good crowds in a great tournament and whatever happens, happens. I think that's one reason we play pretty well in this. We relax and just play."