Jon Smith won the opening tip-off against Akron’s 7-footer, Zeke Marshall. But then Marshall said he got another kind of tip.
The Zips’ shot-blocking center helped create major foul problems for the Bobcats, who lost 68-63 Saturday at Rhodes Arena. Four Ohio players fouled out in the game, including the team’s top three forwards.
After the game, Marshall said one of the officials told him how to draw more fouls.
“I was just playing my normal game. The refs started talking to me about some of the things I do to prevent people from fouling me,” Marshall said.
“I usually try to keep people’s arms off me from being reached. (A referee) told me, ‘Stop doing that, and I’ll start calling fouls for you. I’ll make sure of that.’”
Smith was the first to defend Marshall, but he picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game. He sat for the rest of the half and eventually fouled out after only six minutes on the floor.
Four of his five fouls came while he was defending Akron’s biggest target. Neither Ohio coach John Groce nor Smith would comment on Marshall’s revelation.
Forwards Ivo Baltic and Reggie Keely also fouled out in the contest, as did starting guard Walter Offutt. Point guard D.J. Cooper finished with four fouls, including a technical foul for a seemingly terse conversation he had with Marshall after fouling him late in the game.
Marshall finished with a game-high 17 points before fouling out with 33 seconds left in the game.
Ohio (13-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) was called for 30 fouls, and Akron (11-6, 3-0 MAC) had 21. The Zips made more shots from the free-throw line than from the field in a herky-jerky contest that Groce said lacked rhythm.
“I thought our guys exhibited a lot of toughness and a lot of togetherness,” he said. “It was a very difficult game to play with 51 fouls being called — there was really no flow to the game or rhythm in the game.”
Complicating measures for Ohio was the hostile crowd at Rhodes Arena. A packed house of 4,661 cheered the Zips while jeering the Bobcats. Baltic and Cooper briefly exchanged words with fans sitting near the court.
“I think (the large crowd) gave everyone else, along with us, energy to get through this one,” said Akron point guard Alex Abreu, who gave the Zips the lead for good on a 3-pointer with four minutes to play. “I wish it would happen more often.”
Though the Bobcats could not control the officiating or the crowd, several mistakes contributed to the loss. Keely second-guessed a dunk attempt that turned into an embarrassing missed layup in the first half. Later, Cooper hesitated on a fast-break layup and missed the shot. In addition, Baltic missed both of his 3-point attempts.
Cooper and Baltic shot a combined 7-for-32 from the field.
Ohio outscored Akron 49-39 on field goals, but the Zips had a 29-14 edge in the free-throw department.
“When you call that many fouls, it starts to center around the free-throw line,” said Offutt, who was called for an intentional foul on a fast-break play. “The most aggressive team usually wins the game.”