Zips flex muscle, extend streak

The Akron Zips are on quite a roll. They're enjoying every second.

AKRON, Ohio - Different opponent, different stage, same result for Akron.

With a little splash, too.

The Zips extended the nation's longest win streak to 18 games Friday night, turning a BracketBusters showcase game into the kind of interior-oriented game in which they thrive and pulling away to beat North Dakota State, 68-53.

Akron likes to play fast and cares little about playing pretty, and that formula led to North Dakota State never really having a chance to find a consistent flow. Akron's athletic front line simply took over Friday night, with 7-footer Zeke Marshall leading the way in the scoring column and 6-foot-7 bully Demetrius Treadwell providing a complement.

Treadwell had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Marshall scored 14 points and had 8 rebounds, and Nick Harney had 13 points and 5 rebounds. The Zips scored 34 points in the paint, had 15 second-chance points and owned a 43-36 advantage in rebounds.

If you're going to end this Akron streak, muscle up.

"Sometimes we're a bull in a China shop," Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. "But we're good enough to win.

"I don't think by any means we've topped off in terms of how good we can be."

Treadwell had his sixth double-double of the year. Marshall gets the spotlight and played one of his best games of the year Friday, but Treadwell is probably Akron's best player. That's more bad news for future opponents.

In the first half Marshall got a steal at half court, and awkwardly but athletically -- if that makes sense -- dribbled to the basket and delivered a powerful two-hand dunk. He was assessed a technical for hanging on the rim.

Both Marshall and Dambrot said Marshall was simply protecting himself. It will make a lot of highlight reels.

"I rate that a 10.5," Treadwell said. "Zeke handled it real well for a 7-footer out there running the break.

"He was a big man out there playing the passing lanes like a guard. That's another dimension to his game. It never stops."

He laughed. There's a lot for this Akron team to like right now.  

Akron goes to 22-4 and builds on an NCAA Tournament at-large resume it hopes it won't need next month. Akron came in to the game with an RPI ranking of 50 and should climb, at least a little, by the end of the weekend. North Dakota State, which came in at 82 in RPI, drops to 20-8.

On Marshall's steal and dunk, North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips said he liked "the end of the play where we got two free throws. The kid is really good.

"Let's face it. Akron is really good."

North Dakota State has been playing without leading scorer Taylor Braun (15.2 ppg) for six weeks, and has changed its style accordingly to a slower-paced game. The Bison just didn't have the personnel inside to match Akron in this one.

Phillips said his best post scorer, Marshall Bjorklund, has commanded double-teams all season long, even in North Dakota State's early-season losses to Indiana and Minnesota. Akron was able to play him straight-up with Zeke Marshall, and Bjorklund went 1-of-6 from the field and scored just 2 points.

The Zips led by 14 at halftime, and Treadwell rebounded his own miss with a dunk to make it 47-27 with 16:26 to go. Then Akron got bored and the Bison went on a 14-0 run to make it somewhat interesting. Marshall hit a jump shot with 7:13 left to finally stop the Zips' drought, and Akron finished strong from there.

"For stretches we played really well, maybe as well as we played all year," Dambrot said. "Then we just hit the wall.

"The key was we were able to impose our tempo on them. We made it faster than they really wanted to play."

Akron has won 33 of its last 35 home games, and the 18-game win streak is tied for the second-longest ever by a Mid-American Conference program. Akron can essentially clinch the MAC title with a win at Ohio next Wednesday and is still chasing its goal of becoming the first modern-era MAC team to go through conference play unblemished.

The pieces are in place. This is a team to watch going forward.

"We have to come out and handle our business," Marshall said. "That's basically what it is."