COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon had warned about Akron since the Aggies' 2009-10 schedule came out. A year ago the Zips were the Mid-American conference champions and a 13 seed in the NCAA tournament where they gave Gonzaga all it could handle in the first round.
Friday night at Reed Arena the No. 19 Aggies (7-1) were able to build an early lead, and despite having to grind things out never relinquished it in a 74-62 win over Akron (4-3), the preseason favorite to repeat as MAC champion and earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in March.
"I'm really pleased with the win. This game was a game that I was nervous about. I wanted to challenge our guys when I put our schedule together. Akron is picked to win their league and we know they are a good team and an NCAA tournament team," Turgeon said. "It's nerve-racking all day and it's a nervous feeling. That's a really good win against a team that is going to be a heck of a team in their league as the year goes on."
Akron showed early that it has the size to play with A&M as freshman seven-footer Zeke Marshall got two early blocks on A&M sophomore forward David Loubeau on his way to four on the night to go along with six points and a game-high nine rebounds.
And the Zips deliberately slowed things down on the offensive end, running different sets on every trip down the floor in order to neutralize A&M's better talent and size. It's not something Akron head coach Keith Dambrot expects to do when Akron gets in to MAC play, but it is in order to try to knock off a high-major opponent like the Aggies.
"We'll run but for a mid-major to beat a high-major you can't get into a running match. We've learned our lesson like when we played Louisville and tried to run. We're not going to do that anymore," Dambrot said. "Somebody said that their guards were a little bit bigger than your guards and more athletic. They're in the Big 12 and we're in the Mid-American, so they should have some guys who are more physical so we have to grind. We can play in a variety of ways but we're not getting into a running match with Texas A&M. I'm too old for that."
The Aggie trio of seniors led A&M on the night with guard Donald Sloan leading the way with 17, guard Derrick Roland with 15 and forward Bryan Davis with 11. Davis scores just one bucket from the field, but was 9-12 from the free throw line.
Roland helped A&M out to a quick 11-point lead to start the game with eight points in the first five minutes of play. Roland would finish with 10 in the half, and finish the game with a career-high eight rebounds.
"Coach kind of got after us (Wednesday) after the first half and I think we responded well tonight. We were out to 16-4 or 16-6 or something like that and we had a lot of energy coming out," Roland said. "In past games we didn't have a lot of energy, so we just came out with a lot of energy tonight. We have to continue to do that to be successful."
Akron was able to cut the lead to 26-23 at the half after a stifling defense shut down the Aggies and Akron guard Darryl Roberts got hot from outside on his way to a team-high 12 points.
But in the second half the Aggies came out firing on the back of sophomore point guard Dash Harris who has seven second half points to go along with career highs in assists (8) and steals (4) without a turnover.
"(Harris) was great, and if you think about when we struggled in this game Dash was sitting next to me. He picked up two fouls and I played him probably two minutes of the last 12 minutes in the first half and that's when we really struggled," Turgeon said. "I played him a lot in the second half and our offense flowed better and our defensive pressure was better too."
The Aggies will face North Texas (4-2) Monday at 7 p.m. at Reed Arena.