Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
Friday's Bracket Buster action is like the appetizer prior to Saturday's main course. It did help to satisfy a little of the hunger for some good basketball on an otherwise normally quiet night.
The slate featured one of the leading contenders to make a nice run in the NCAA Tournament, provided they can close out the MAC conference. Akron won the regular season title last season in the MAC, and then had a little problem with that pesky Ohio team that made the Sweet 16.
This season just seems different for the Zips though. They got a kind of consolation match Friday, as North Dakota State has been without Taylor Braun, its leading scorer, because of an injury. There is no reason to risk that in a meaningless game for the Bison. They have the Summit conference to worry about, not a game that won't help their at-large resume.
And so the Zips took advantage, winning 68-53 despite blowing an 18-point cushion at one point. Zeke Marshall, he of the Mid-Major 5, led with 14 points and five blocks. He also had a steal that led to a dunk admired by teammate Demetrius Treadwell:
A midcourt steal by Marshall, then a quick dribble to the hoop for a dunk, made it 28-20 Akron.
It set the stage for the rest of the game.
"I rate it a 10.5," Treadwell said. "Big man playing the passing lanes like a guard. Another aspect to his game. It never stops."
Treadwell had reason to celebrate his own game, finishing with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
North Dakota State was led by Lawrence Alexander with 19 points.
Then attention turned West, as Stephen Austin, another team that really needed a high-quality win to add to its gaudy record, and Long Beach State squared off.
This was a similarly important game for Long Beach, whose early schedule was packed with quality opponents. But while the schedule was strong, the team was not yet at full strength as multiple transfers had yet to become eligible.
That meant a 4-7 nonconference record, one that fell to 4-8 after dropping Friday's game 68-60 to the Lumberjacks.
The difference was really the Lumberjack shooting. Stephen Austin shot almost 57 percent from the field as Antonio Bostic led four players in double figures with 21 points.
Stephen F. Austin boasts one of the top assist rates in the nation, and counted 19 assists on 26 baskets. At the other end, Long Beach had only 5 assists on 22 buckets. Probably the most telling stat of all is that the Jacks beat the 49ers in assists-to-turnovers ratio, 19/17 to 5/19.
"We were humbled," said Long Beach head coach Dan Monson. "That was individual talent versus a team, and a team's going to win every time."
Taylor Smith added 15 points and eight rebounds in the win.
Long Beach State's Mike Caffey had 24 points on 50 percent shooting, and James Ennis added 12, but that was the extent of the offense for the 49ers and it showed on the scoreboard.