April 19, 2014

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College basketball: Akron struggles without suspended point guard, loses to Kent State

Akron’s special season has hit a stunning snag.

Zips starting point guard Alex Abreu pleaded not guilty to trafficking and possession of marijuana on Friday, hours before his teammates lost to rival Kent State in their regular-season finale — on senior night — without the junior floor general and inspirational leader.

Abreu has been suspended indefinitely, pending the outcome of the police investigation.

Abreu appeared via closed-circuit TV from jail in Akron Municipal Court. On Thursday, the 21-year-old and Austin L. Durgala, 18, were arrested by police for allegedly accepting a package containing 5 pounds of marijuana.

According to police, narcotic-unit detectives arrested Abreu and Durgala at the latter’s residence.

Abreu posted $5,000 bond and was released from the Summit County Jail at around 6 p.m. He offered only one “no comment” to reporters before he and Durgala got in a car and were driven away.

Abreu is due back in court March 22, when the Zips hope to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.

But without Abreu, Akron’s run to make the NCAA field for the third time since 2009 will be much more challenging. The Zips lost 68-64 to Kent State.

Darren Goodson set a career high with 19 points to lead Kent State (19-12, 9-7 Mid-American Conference) as the first-place Zips played their first game without their starting point guard.

Kent State led 40-25 at halftime and never surrendered the advantage, though Reggie McAdams’ 3-pointer pulled the Zips (24-6, 14-2) within 64-61 with 33 seconds left. The Golden Flashes responded with four straight foul shots.

Freshman Carmelo Betancourt filled in for Abreu, scoring five points with four assists. Akron’s Demetrius Treadwell had 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Zeke Marshall added 14 points.

Although the Zips recently won 19 straight games and will be the No. 1 seed in next week’s MAC Tournament, they’ll need to win the tourney to get the league’s automatic NCAA bid. If Akron doesn’t capture the championship, there’s no guarantee they’ll get one of the coveted at-large bids awarded by the selection committee.

The MAC has not had two teams in the NCAA Tourney since 1999.

With experience, size, balance and depth, these Zips have all the makings of one that could bust brackets in March. Abreu, a three-year starter who found his way to Akron from Puerto Rico, averages 10.3 points and 6.3 assists, many of them going to Marshall, the 7-foot center who gives Akron an inside presence to play with any team from any conference.

Beyond his stat line, the fiery Abreu has had a steadying hand for the Zips, who had the nation’s longest winning streak before they were beaten last week at Buffalo — Akron’s first loss since Dec. 15.

Akron had lost a pair of non-conference games while Abreu was hurt, and coach Ken Dambrot was hoping the NCAA selection committee would take that into account if the Zips were under consideration. Now, assuming Abreu’s suspension continues, his off-the-floor issues could keep Akron out unless they can avoid being knocked out of the always competitive MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena.