MUNCIE, Ind. – The Akron Zips opened the defense of its back-to-back Mid-American Conference regular season titles with a 72-68 road win over the Ball State Cardinals on Wednesday night at Worthen Arena.
A Nick Harney free throw with 4.1 seconds remaining sealed it for Akron (9-5, 1-0 MAC) as the Zips extended their regular-season winning streak over the MAC West Division to 16 games.
Quincy Diggs led all scorers with 21 points to go with two assists, two steals and an assist. Demetrius "Tree" Treadwell was the only other Zip in double figures with 13 points, in addition to seven boards. Harney and Jake Kretzer finished with nine points each.
Akron closed the game shooting 40.0 percent from the field (26-of-65), but made just 3-of-23 from 3-point range (13.0 percent). The Zips did convert 17-of-24 free throw attempts (70.8 percent). The Zips finished with just eight turnovers to the Cardinals' 15, but lost the rebounding battle, 42-35.
Chris Bond led Ball State (3-9, 0-1 MAC) with 18 points.
The Zips opened the second half by pushing their lead back to double digits at 43-32 just after the first media time (15:36), but the Cardinals again answered the UA run. BSU would tie the game at 45-all by the 12:06 mark thanks to a 13-2 run. A pair of free throws by Majok Majok at the 11:07 mark gave Ball State its first lead of the game (47-45).
The BSU lead would be short-lived as Deji Ibitayo hit a 3-pointer on UA's next possession, followed by a Diggs floater, to give the Zips a five-point advantage (52-47).
With the Akron lead at just one (54-53, 6:55), the Zips opened a nine-point advantage (64-55) over the next 2:28, capped off by back-to-back layups by Treadwell and Kretzer.
The Cardinals made one final push, cutting the Akron lead to 69-65 on a Majok dunk. On BSU's next possession, Jesse Berry missed a layup and a key defensive board by Kretzer gave Akron the ball with 9.2 seconds remaining.
A pair of free throws by Diggs made it a six-point game, but BSU's Bond hit a 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds left to make it a 71-68 game. Harney split a pair of free throws to give Akron the 72-68 win.
With the game tied 4-4 early on, the Zips used the next seven minutes pushing its lead to double digits. A 14-2 run gave Akron a 19-6 advantage with just under 10 minutes to go in the opening half.
With Akron leading 27-12, Ball State slowly began to close the gap thanks to a 7-2 run. However, a Diggs lay-up and made free throw following the final media timeout, ended the Cardinal's streak with Akron up 30-19 with 2:50 remaining.
Ball State would make one final push to close the gap, as the Akron lead would shrink to six by halftime (34-28).
Diggs led all players with 11 points in the half as the Zips shot 37.8 percent from the field (14-of-37) and just 15.4 percent from long range (2-of-13). Ball State held a 21-17 advantage on the boards, but committed nine turnovers to Akron's three.
The Zips will travel to Athens, Ohio, for a matchup with the Ohio Bobcats on Sunday, Jan. 12. Tip off is set for 6 p.m. ET and the contest will air live on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel.
Zips Notebook: Carmelo Betancourt fouled out of tonight's game, the first foul out of his career (45 games) ... Akron is now 10-0 against Ball State under 10th-year head coach Keith Dambrot ... including the MAC Tournament, the Zips have won 18-straight games against the MAC West ... the 21-point performance by Quincy Diggs is the second 20-point game of his career (26 at Middle Tennessee, Nov. 16, 2013).