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Akron pulls away from UC Irvine 88-80

It was exciting as expected, but it was Akron who drained big 3-pointer, after big 3-pointer down the stretch to knock off UC Irvine, and move into the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational championship game.

Antino Jackson led the way with 23 points, while Josh Williams added 18 points, and two more reached double figures as the Zips improve to 9-3 on the year.

Both teams traded runs, buckets, and 3-pointers in the opening half playing to a 42-40 Akron lead at halftime after an eventful first half.

UC Irvine turned a 17-16 lead into a 30-19 lead after 3-pointers from Jaron Martin, Max Hazzard, and then Ioannis Dimakopoulos at the 8:53 mark of the first half capping a 16-3 run.

Akron had answers the rest of the half, outscoring UCI 23-10 in the final eight minutes of the half with Josh Williams making a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left until the half which gave the Zips that 42-40 halftime lead.

The Zips stretched their lead to 56-46 after another 3-pointer from Williams at the 14:39 mark of the second half, and controlled the lead heading to the final eleven minutes until UC Irvine cut into the lead later in the half.

Down 61-52 after an Akron free throw with 10:55 left, UCI went a 7-0 run as Eyassu Worku came up with a steal and easy fast break layup cutting the deficit to just 61-59 with a little under nine minutes left to play.

Tavian Dunn-Martin stretched the Akron lead back out to 66-59 with a jumper, then Isiah Johnson got inside with a nice post move for a layup giving the Zips a 72-61 lead with 5:30 left.

But Jaron Martin got going, scoring five in a row, including a 3-pointer which ended a 7-2 UC Irvine spurt, and cut the lead to 74-71 with just under three minutes to play.

Although the night ultimately belonged to Josh Williams who went 6-of-9 from long distance in the game, and put the game away with the Zips leading 76-74 with a dagger 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:23 left in the game giving Akron a 79-74 going away lead.

The Zips went 19-of-26 from the free throw line, and shot 50 percent despite being out rebounded 37-27.

Martin finished with 20 points, leading four UC Irvine players in double figures. UCI pounded the paint with a 36-18 edge in points in the paint and held a 14-7 edge in second chance points, but went 2-for-10 from 3-point land in the second half. after a 5-of-6 start in the first half.

Akron will play either UTEP or Maryland-Eastern Shore at 7 p.m. tomorrow, while UC Irvine the loser at 5 p.m.