AKRON, OH Dont look now but the Akron Zips are playing their best basketball of the season.
Brett McClanahan had a career-high 13 points / Photo: Jeff Harwell
The Zips extended their season best winning streak to six games Sunday afternoon routing the Western Michigan Broncos 87-63 before 2,504 fans at Rhodes Arena.
The victory moved Akron (15-8,6-3) into a tie with Bowling Green in the highly competitive East Division while handing the Broncos (7-15,4-5) their fourth straight loss and fifth in the last six games.
Akron shot a season best 55.9 percent from the field (33-for-59) en route to also recording their season best point total.
Brett McKnight led a balanced Zips scoring attack with 19 points off the bench while brother Chris added 13 as four Akron players finished in double figures.
However the key to this victory over Western Michigan was the play of the younger Zips.
Brett McClanahan, playing just his eighth collegiate game, scored a career high 13 points as he went four-of-six from the field (three-of-four from three point range) and added two assists.
Him (McClanahan) and Nikola (Cvetinovic) are the reasons that we are better right now. They played really well, Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said after the game.
McClanhan, from Nitro, West Virginia was originally going to be redshirted this season but the coaching staff needed shooting and he was activated in mid-January.
It smacked me right in the face and it was Ricky McFadden (Akrons Director of Basketball Operations) who said the guys is killing us in practice. We cant shoot and Ronnie (redshirt freshman Steward) is slow coming back, Dambrot added explaining the decision that led to McClanahan's seeing playing time.
"What we have asked Brett to do is amazing. He didnt play for 15 games and we are running plays right at him. That is how good he is offensively, Dambrot exclaimed.
Another player in the spotlight on Sunday afternoon was Nikola Cvetinovic who also had a career high 13 points.
The freshman from Serbia, who was recently inserted into the starting lineup by Dambrot, was 5-for-10 from the floor along with four rebounds and two assists. His previous career high was 11 points at Toledo on January 28th.
David Kool, Western Michigans fine junior guard, led all scorers with 23 points along with five rebounds and two steals.
Kool, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan ,came into the game as the third leading scorer in the MAC averaging 16.6 points per game.
That man (Kool) is one of the best players in the league if not the best and we had our hands full with him, Dambrot said
The game was decided midway through the first half when Akron used a run of 13 unanswered points that turned a four-point deficit into a nine-point lead and the Zips never looked back.
The visitors from Kalamazoo started the game strongly holding a five-point lead early 8-3 on a three-pointer by Kool.
Akron tied the score 8-8 on a Brett McKnight jumper and a three by McClanahan before the Broncos pushed the lead back out to four on two occasions the last being 14-10 at the 15:06 mark on a jumper by LaMarcus Lowe.
Akron is a great team and they responded like a great team does. They came right at us and we didnt seem to fight back as well as we wanted to, Kool lamented.
After the 13-0 run by the Zips, the closest Western Michigan would get for the remainder of the contest was three points, 26-23 at the 7:55 mark on a layup by Muhammed Conteh.
The Zips then went on a 15-4 run to open their largest lead of the half at 41-25 on two Nate Linhart free throws and went into halftime with a 41-29 advantage.
The competitive phase of the game ended early in the second half.
After the Broncos closed their deficit to 13 points 52-39 on a conventional three-point play by Kool, Akron went on an 18-4 spurt to open a 27-point lead, 70-43, with 10:46 remaining on a Chris McKnight three.
The games biggest differential came with 6:38 remaining when the Zips' lead ballooned to 32 points, 77-45 on a Jimmy Conyers layup.
Demetrius Ward scored 11 points (nine coming in the second half) and Shawntes Gary added 10 for the Broncos but it was way too little and far too late.
Akron has balance and their young kids are really good. Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins said after the game. They are not a surprise because you have seen how far they have come along as a team.
Its a long race. We have a ways to go winning the West Division is still within our grasp as Ball State is a just a game up on us and they have to come back to our place, Kool emphasized
Both teams return to action on Wednesday night with Akron hosting West Division leading Ball State while the Broncos host Ohio.
NOTES: The game was the 34th lifetime meeting which is now all even 17-17Akron has won five of the last six meetingsWestern has not beaten the Zips in the Rubber City since January 3,2004 (83-75)Akron is 4-0 this season against the West Division and 5-1 in their last six regular season meetings against the West dating back to last seasonZips are 61-7 overall and 29-3 in MAC play at home in the Keith Dambrot eraBrett McKnight-UA hit double digits for the fourth consecutive game and fifth in the last sixDavid Kool has scored in double digits in 21 of the Broncos 22 games so far this seasonBroncos have lost five straight against the East dating back to their MAC Tournament loss to Akron last seasonEd Hightower, one of the top referees in all of college basketball was the lead official for the game on Sunday. Hightower has worked numerous Final Fours including the Memphis-Kansas Championship game last seasonBefore the game a moment of silence was observed for one-time Zips play-by-play man Jerry Healey. The former Sports Director at WAKR-TV was the voice of the Zips from 1969-72. He passed away over the weekend at his home in Southern California