It was a beautiful day at InfoCision Stadium. For 2.5 hours, Akron conducted its fifth practice of the spring, which also included its first full scrimmage lasting 30 minutes.
On the whole, coach Rob Ianello was unhappy with the results: "Neither side of the ball came out with the urgency that you'd expect for a scrimmage," he said. "I was disappointed with the enthusiasm of the team."
With the departure of Jared Wackerly, Akron found its third quarterback in Marc Pedro, a walk-on from Kettering, Ohio. Matt Rodgers participated some, but Ianello still considers him to be injured. So for now, until Rodgers is ready and the two true freshmen arrive in the fall, Pedro is the No. 2 quarterback.
It was neat to watch Frisman Jackson coach the receivers, after watching him play receiver for the Browns. He is an energetic coach who loves to teach. He seems like a great addition to the staff.
That said, his receivers were having trouble catching the ball during drills. On five-yard curl routes to the sideline, Akron's receivers weren't hauling in many of Patrick Nicely's crisp passes. Nadir Brown dropped one that landed at my feet. I tossed it to him, and that too went through his hands.
Passing-wise, Nicely looked a lot like last year. He was throwing fastballs for strikes with that big arm of his. One weakness still persists: He has a difficult time on passes that require touch. In a goal-line setting, Nicely misplaced a ball to Curtis Brown, who was wide open in the end zone. It should have been a painless touchdown.
As I said, Rodgers participated in some throwing drills. He has a brace on his left knee. You could tell he was not quite able to roll out with the ball. Brian Wagner picked him off on a one-on-one drill where the linebacker must come up and cover a back out of the backfield. Wagner would have taken the ball in the other direction for six points.
The coaches won't start to talk about whom they prefer at quarterback until Rodgers comes back fully. Ianello does not intend to decide on the starter until the fall. As to Nicely, the coach said: "I think he does a nice job managing the operations of the offense."
The coaching staff was NOT happy with the center-to-quarterback snap transactions today. Nicely took shotgun snaps during high school and last year as a freshman. Now he's under center in Ianello's pro-style offense. The last play of the scrimmage was a goal-line play where the snap was fumbled. That caused the offensive players to enjoy extra calisthenics. "It's a transition for him to take snaps under center," Ianello said. Nicely and center Mike Ward continued to "transition" after practice ended with extra snap drills.
Alex Allen looks explosive. He is not sporting a knee brace. Nor does he appear to be limited in any way. With him and Broderick Alexander, the Zips have a nice tandem at running back. Alexander made some nice catches coming out of the backfield, too.
When the Zips practiced special teams, the players who were on the return team wore red swimcaps to separate themselves from the team covering the punt. This, I suppose, is more convenient than having everyone change jerseys. Zack Campbell did all of the punting. Jeremy LaFrance seemed to be the primary returner, with Nate Burney helping out.
Before the team broke drills to scrimmage, Ianello shouted, "It's college football. This is a great thing!" It demonstrated how much fun he's having (and how much he expects his team to have). Ianello wore warmups on the sidelines during practice. He didn't speak as much (or as loudly) as his assistants during the practice, but he certainly gave a booming post-practice speech. I mean, WOW! I told him that he had me pumped up and ready to play.
I spoke with Almondo Sewell after practice. He said Ianello runs the program a lot differently than J.D. Brookhart. "It's a lot more strict," Sewell said. Ianello said he has four simple rules: 1) Do what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it. 2) Be early to everything. 3) Communicate. 4) Do what's right.
I don't envy a coach who wants to be a disciplinarian with players he did not recruit -- players who, perhaps, liked the previous guy better. It will work for a time for anyone, but it takes a special leader to keep the team swimming the right direction without a minor mutiny for 12 games.
Ianello has not considered who might serve as team captains. Sewell, a likely candidate, told me that the defensive line is working to adapt to the new 4-3 defense. "We're taking it step by step every day," he said. "Most of us played in the 3-3-5 for three years of our lives." Sewell added that he believes the new defense will allow him to make more plays because he'll deal with single blocks, rather than doubles.
I will try to report from one more practice before the Spring Game on April 17.
Former Akron basketball star Mike Harkins died at age 81 from muscular dystrophy. The ABJ's Tom Gaffney wrote an obituary.
Gaffney also covered the medical hardship waiver process, which granted Alex Allen his sixth year of eligibility.
I will cover practice on Wednesday and blog shortly thereafter.
DeVoe Torrence's tumultuous career has taken another turn. He decided to transfer, according to reports.
Torrence was one of the top linebacker recruits in the nation and had committed to Ohio State before sexual allegations caused Jim Tressel to withdraw the scholarship offer. The Canton native landed at Akron, where he played a so-so first year at running back.
After a couple practices this spring, Torrence met with coach Rob Ianello and decided to transfer. Jared Wackerly, a third-string walk-on quarterback, also will leave the program.
Akron opened practice yesterday. According to Tom Gaffney's report, the weather was perfect but offensive execution was anything but.
The Zips are, however, transferring to a pro-style offense, which requires more snaps from under center. That caused some fumbles. Patrick Nicely, who took a bulk of the snaps, also threw some interceptions.
The GoZips.com report breaks down likely players along the new four-man defensive line.
Tom Gaffney wrote about the start of spring football, which is tomorrow.
Personnel wise, he reports that the NCAA granted Alex Allen his sixth year of eligibility. This is quite rare. On the other hand, linebacker Aaron Williams has left the team. One notable position change, senior Mike Ward will move from guard to center.
I will try to get out to a couple of Akron's 15 practices before the spring game on April 17.
Keith Dambrot is among five finalists for the Red Auerbach Award, given to the nation's top Jewish coach.
Here are the other finalists:
Brad Greenberg, Radford Seth Greenberg, Virginia Tech Josh Pastner, Memphis Bruce Pearl, Tennessee
I think Dambrot needed this personally. Within a week, his team went from being favored in the MAC Championship to losing on its home floor in a soup-sandwich effort against another mid-major in the CBI. Fans, like they do, piled on.
Good luck, Keith.
Despite four straight MAC Championship appearances, fans have become antsy. As fans often do, they are spewing hyperbole and unfounded insults. But the root of their frustration is legitimate. They fear that this is as good as it gets. I share that concern.
Keith Dambrot has prided himself on building a program by using almost exclusively high school players. Often, he has talked about avoiding a "quick fix." But I think it's time to seriously examine whether that is the best strategy.
Looking around the MAC, it's easy to find successful transfers.
-- Xavier Silas came from Colorado, and his impact was immediate. He averaged 19.7 points per game in his first season at Northern Illinois.
-- Armon Bassett played extensive minutes two years at Indiana. After a slow start, Bassett quickly showed he is among the best in the league. He put the Bobcats on his back and earned MAC Tournament MVP.
-- Nick Dials received playing time as a freshman at Ohio State. Uncharacteristically, Dambrot brought him in, and Dials was an important part of the program.
The fact of the matter is, your average mid-major recruit has a weakness -- whether it is academics, athleticism, size, shooting or basketball IQ. There are exceptions, of course, such as Zeke Marshall. But it's hard for any coach to pull off more than one coup per year.
A team like Ohio State will pull in three or four "flawless" recruits per year, but they can't all play big minutes. These high-major players, having been "the man" since they could dribble, want to play. It's natural. Other times a player wants to leave the program because of a coaching change. Not every transfer has the attitude of Allen Iverson.
The reality is, most players seeking to transfer cannot make a lateral move. If the guy isn't good enough to get minutes at Wake Forest, why would Clemson want him? They move to the mid-majors.
Other times, you have a junior college player who either blossomed too late to be noticed by college scouts out of high school or did not achieve proper grades to meet NCAA guidelines. These players often possess the complete package of skills but just had to get their grades in order.
Coaches often talk about "wanting to make their players into good citizens." It's an easy task when you're only taking guys from good families, like the McKnights. The more difficult task is discerning which young men deserve a second chance to fulfill their potential and which ones will blow it. So it's an added stress, but it can pay off.
Kent State has done a great job of this. Tyree Evans did not have the career that Flashes fans hoped for, but by all accounts, he got his life on track. Haminn Quaintance was another Division I transfer. His attitude was difficult for many to handle, but every Kent State fan would agree that the risk on him paid off. The list of successful Kent State transfers is endless.
Dambrot has been a great recruiter of high school players. There can be no faulting him there. But his roster has lacked a marquee player since Jeremiah Wood left.
Let's consider the problems this year:
1) The guards on this team were incapable of stopping a marquee scorer. That requires quickness, height and toughness. Mid-majors can get a player like this, but it probably won't be someone who can also score.
2) The Zips did not have a go-to player. I don't have statistics for this, but I would venture that Brett McKnight was no better than 1-for-10 on tying or go-ahead attempts in the last possession of the game. It's not a knock on Brett; it's an indication that the team does not have a player with the killer instinct that marquee scorers possess.
Not every transfer will work. It is up to the coaching staff to identify which high-major transfers are leaving for the right reasons (not getting enough playing time, coach gets fired) and which ones were pushed out for the wrong reasons (refusal to play defense, attitude that clashed with most players/coaches).
But when you find one that can take leadership position on the team, you have the capacity to compete with other high majors because you're combining the best aspects of a mid-major (teamwork, defense) with a complete skill set that high-majors generally monopolize.
In a way, I see why Dambrot is reluctant to schedule a lot of big road games. He knows the Zips will only win one out of 10 times. But if you add a Bassett, Silas or Quaintance to an already-effective team, the mid-major becomes a threat to win. That is how you take the program to a higher level.
And that's what Zips fans ultimately want.
Maybe it's better I didn't see last night's game, because it will allow me to better put this season in perspective.
The Zips lost at home 70-66, in front of only 877 fans, allowing another guard to score oodles of points.
Disappointing, sure. But here are some uplifting thoughts...
Akron was the first or second-best team in the conference all year long. The Zips went into the last game of the season with a chance to win the regular-season title. That alone would have been the biggest accomplishment of the decade for half of the MAC's programs.
The Zips also went into overtime with a chance to win the MAC Tournament. The Ohio Bobcats swept through the MAC Tournament, knocking off probably the MAC West's best team (Ball State), the regular-season champion (Kent State) and its archrival (Miami). Akron was the only team that made it competitive against them. That a single D.J. Cooper 3-pointer swished should not determine whether this season was a success or failure. It disappoints us as fans, but we cannot project our disappointment improperly by saying that one shot determines whether six months of work for Akron's players and coaches paid off.
Zeke Marshall looked good as a true freshman. He did not dominate the MAC, but he showed flashes of it. He needs to put on a lot of weight, but if he does, look out. Keith Dambrot is right to build the offense and defense around him. That boy needs to eat.
The MAC East is graduating a lot of talent. Buffalo loses its two guards who had basically built the program. Miami loses Kenny Hayes. Kent State loses six seniors. The MAC West is similarly depleted. Yes, Ohio looked really good. And the team is young. But now it will be the Bobcats' turn to go through the conference with every team looking to knock off the MAC Champions (the bull's eye, for you cliche lovers). We might find that, like Akron last year, Ohio simply got hot in the past couple weeks. The real Bobcats team is somewhere in between the one that lost four games to start the MAC season and the one that looked unbeatable in Cleveland.
It's true that the Zips lose their best player (Jimmy Conyers) and a key rotational player (Chris McKnight). This team will still be very deep. Here is how I see the depth chart breaking down in 2010-11...
PG — McNees, Steward, Hitchens SG — Hitchens, Roberts (equal minutes), Sullivan SF — McKnight, McClanahan, Euton PF — Cvetinovic, Green/Egner C — Marshall, Bardo, Sweich
The Zips will have two senior guards, a senior swingman and a versatile frontcourt.
Last night must have sucked. But the program is still heading in the right direction. This year and last year were supposed to be rebuilding seasons. Dambrot parlayed it into an NCAA Tournament appearance, a CBI appearance and 47 wins.
The next two years were the seasons that people have looked forward to. There is no reason why that should change.
News and notes from tonight's game...
The Phoenix are 19-12 with an RPI of 107. Green Bay leads the Horizon League in shooting 38 percent on 3s. The Phoenix has a -1.1 rebounding margin, but a +1.24 turnover margin.
The Green Bay paper expects Akron to bring pressure. Here's a nice quote from junior guard Bryquis Perine: "We’re going to counter that. We’re going to use their aggression against them."
Tom Gaffney wrote about how Keith Dambrot is motivating his team and the finances behind the deal.
I won't be there tonight. I'm at Akron-Canton Airport about to head to Dallas, but I should be able to check in later tonight after the game.
The Phoenix excel in guard play, but the Zips should be able to dominate down low. With Jimmy Conyers and Chris McKnight getting a bonus senior night (is this their third?), they should take advantage with double-doubles. I think Akron will win comfortably.
Akron will play in a postseason tournament for the third-straight season. The Zips accepted a bid at the College Basketball Invitational and will host Wisconsin-Green Bay on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Rhodes Arena.
Green Bay (21-12) was the third-best team in the Horizon League, but the Phoenix fell in the quarterfinal round. Akron is 3-4 against Green Bay all-time, but the teams have not met since 1992, when both schools were members of the Mid-Continent Conference.
The winner will play either St. Louis or Indiana State on Monday, March 22. Rick Majerus coaches St. Louis, the higher seeded of the two, which has no juniors or seniors on the roster. The Billikens went 11-5 in the Atlantic 10 this year (20-11 overall). Indiana State, of course, is Larry Bird's alma mater. They went 17-14 and were the fifth-best team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
If St. Louis wins, then Akron or Green Bay will play there. It has not yet been determined who would host a potential game between Indiana State and Akron, according to Akron SID Gregg Bach. Here is the full bracket.
The semifinals will be held March 24. The championship round is a best-of-three series with games on March 29, March 31 and April 2. All games will be held on campus sites. The higher-seeded team gets to host two of the three championship games.
HDNet will broadcast up to eleven of the tournament games, but the Zips' first round game is not one of them.
The field has some pretty good teams, such as VCU, Princeton and defending champion Oregon State. Akron has nothing to be ashamed of. I think the community would be very fascinated by a best-of-three series, if the Zips make it that far.
Also this... Read the Toledo Blade story regarding the resignation of Rockets coach Gene Cross.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Akron did not earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament or NIT.
Akron is still waiting to hear if the Collegeinsider.com Tournament (CIT) and College Basketball Invitational (CBI) are interested in putting the Zips on their brackets.
Ohio is a 14 seed. The Bobcats will play Georgetown on Thursday at 7:25 p.m. in the NCAA Tournament. Kent State is a 4 seed in the NIT. It will host No. 5 Tulsa on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Keep refreshing your browser for updates...
The Zips and Bobcats will face off tonight at 6 p.m. for the MAC Championship. Below is a clip of the end of last night's game against WMU...
I hope I never take this for granted as a Zips fan. As we have learned with the football team, this sort of success can be fleeting. Although Akron will probably be a favorite next year, there is no guarantee that the Zips will have a chance for an NCAA berth like they will tonight.
Akron is a one-point favorite. The over-under is 133.
Pete Conrad of the Dayton Daily News did a good job breaking down why Ohio won: Armon Bassett, DeVaughn Washington and 12 first-half points by Miami.
I arrived in Cleveland. You have to love the buzz in the building. It's thick.
Ohio is scary because of its two guards who are equally likely to score 30. And both have lit up Akron. Bassett dropped 25 on the Zips at the Convo. D.J. Cooper scored 33 at Akron.
Both teams shoot a lot of 3s. I watched the Bobcats harass Miami's guards outside the 3-point line the part of last night's game that I saw. Ohio allows the lowest 3-point percentage in the conference. If Akron thinks it will be able to chuck up 20 3-pointers and win, that is a problem.
As Akron fans watch to see how the Zips defend Bassett and Cooper, Bobcat fans will hope to limit the Zips on the offensive glass. In two games, Jimmy Conyers combined for 25 rebounds, Chris McKnight had 21. This season, Ohio's rebounding margin was -0.2, third-worst in the MAC. Akron was +2.5, which was second-best.
Tom Wistrcill made a major hire recently, adding Dan Satter from Boston University as his senior associate athletic director in charge of external relations. This is from the press release:
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The Lady Zips lost to Bowling Green today, 81-49. Despite the blowout loss, this year was the most significant step that Jodi Kest's team has made since she joined the program. The Zips were 18-13.
I'm leaving for Cleveland now. Check back soon.
I'm here a full hour before gametime, watching the teams stretch. It's thrilling. So thrilling that I'm pulling out a Law Review article to edit.
I'm quite disappointed that they already put the food away at The Q. As you know, that is a big reason why I drive out here. The alternative is a "Puppet Party" that my girlfriend is throwing back in Akron. She has a Kermit the Frog outfit to put me in. I'm also thrilled about that. No, it should be fun.
Important stats from the women's game: Akron shot 34 percent, compared to Bowling Green at 50 percent. Rachel Tecca led the Zips with 12 points. Four Falcons were in double figures. BG killed Akron on rebounds, 40 to 25.
If you're trying to find this game on TV, here is the listing. The Cavs are on Fox Sports New, so you'll have to use the alternate channel.
The crowd is not very large, but it is decidedly in favor of Akron, judging by the ovations so far.
WMU starting lineup: Mike Douglas, David Kool, Donald Lawson, Matelle McLemore and Nate Hutcheson. Akron starters: Steve McNees, Humpty Hitchens, Zeke Marshall, Jimmy Conyers and Chris McKnight.
The PA announcer, who also does the games at Rhodes Arena, does not call Hitchens by his nickname "Humpty" during the tournament games -- just Anthony Hitchens. I wonder if that's to increase neutrality.
Western Michigan brought a lot of fans, considering the trip from Kalamazoo is four hours. The AK-Rowdy turnout is a little better than yesterday.
Conyers is guarding Kool. On WMU's first possession, Kool chucked up a shot that hit only backboard as the shot clock expired.
Hitchens contested a pass that went out of bounds in front of Steve French, who pointed Akron's way to make sure the refs knew whose ball it should be. I really enjoyed listening to Frenchie on the way back to Stow yesterday. I think he might concede that neutrality, as opposed to objectivity, isn't high on his list.
Flenard Whitfield checked into the game at the 17:30 mark. He could be an x-factor for WMU. Man, I hate the cliche.
Lamont Simpson, one of the referees got into Hitchens' face after Hitchens got shoved to the ground. I really didn't see Hitchens do anything, but his reputation precedes him.
Akron is up five, but the Zips have taken some bad shots. That catches up with you.
Brett McKnight converted a layup and somehow got his foot stuck in Whitfield's shorts. Whitfield was one sudden movement from lookin' like a fool with his pants on the ground (see below).
Darryl Roberts must have dozed off or something while staying in front of Kool in the backcourt. Kool blew past him, drew help and dished it for an easy hoop. Kool certainly knows how to make you look stupid.
Here's hoping for Kool to play professionally somewhere. Has there ever been a more apt cigarette pitchman? Nevermind, here's one.
Coach Steve Hawkins made a wise substitution to take Kool out at the 12:03 mark. That gave him extra rest becaue of the media timeout. He subbed back in at 11:56. Seven seconds of rest was more like seven minutes.
Hitchens swiped a Kool pass and took it the other way. David Brown lassoed him and was called for the intentional foul. That's two foul shots and the ball. Hawkins didn't like the call, but that foul is the exact sort of occurrence for the intentional foul rule.
Hitchens made another steal and awkwardly tried to leave it off for Conyers, who awkwardly tried to save it to Marshall. The refs had mercy and called Kool for a foul.
On another fast break, Conyers made the extra pass to Roberts, who made a 3. The Zips' lead is 14, but that's exactly how many Central Michigan led WMU by yesterday. Don't count out Kool from taking over and putting together a 10-point spurt. In fact, I feel one coming on now.
The AK-Rowdies started a neat chant. They are yelling "Z-I" and fans across the arena are responding "P-S."
The Broncos just ran a 24-second possession without Kool touching the ball. If I was Hawkins, I'd pull everyone's scholarship and offer to return some of my pay.
WMU's seniors are McLemore, Kool and Lawson -- an average MAC guard, an average MAC center and the MAC's best player. Like CMU and EMU, they won't be as good next year. On the other hand, Hawkins' offense has generally relied upon a go-to player every year.
There was the 9-0 WMU run. It happened very quickly.
Chris McKnight has been playing like a man today. He's getting dirty in the paint, and his play has rewarded him with three easy put-backs.
Conyers is yelling to Simpson, the ref, that "you seen it, you seen it." I think he's referring to Kool pushing off to get open. He just swished a 3 with Brett McClanahan's hand in his molars, so maybe he doesn't need to be open.
McNees swished a transition 3 in about the same place he nailed one yesterday with 0.8 remaining. The AK-Rowdies are holding up one of those giant Kinkos posters of his head. I'm wondering how weird it would be to walk into Kinkos and tell them you want a 2 foot-by-3 foot poster of a dude's head. I'm sure the clerk would give you a look.
A member of the media -- one of the more sarcastic ones -- just had a good laugh about Marshall's promise that he "plays big in big games." I won't name the writer, but his name rhymes with Belton Malexander. It's a fair criticism. If you're going to say these things as a true freshman, you better not lay two eggs against your rival. Of course, Marshall was huge yesterday.
Kool has 16 points already. If Kool doesn't go pro, I really hope he joins a church league and takes his team to new heights.
Whitfield and Hitchens went to the hardwood after a loose ball. Whitfield flailed his leg and nearly caught Hitchens in the jaw with the boot. I'll avoid the Humpty Dumpty reference.
With the clock about to expire, Hitchens chucked a deep 3 that was woefully short. In one motion -- and before the clock expired -- Conyers caught the airball and executed a reverse layup. That should be on ESPN's Top Ten. Does anyone know if McNees' shot was?
Halftime stats of note: Both teams are shooting around 45 or 46 percent. Kool has 16 points. Hitchens leads Akron with nine. Chris McKnight, Roberts and Douglas each have three rebounds. Akron is 4-of-13 on 3s; WMU is 4-of-9. WMU has six assists and 11 turnovers. Akron is 6:7. That is the difference in the game because Akron has 14 points off turnovers, compared to WMU's seven.
The biggest stat is Akron's lead in rebounding, 18 to 12.
In case you were wondering, No. 8 seed Ohio is favored by 1.5 points over No. 4 Miami.
Let's consider the financial ramifications of McNees' shot if Akron goes on to win the MAC. He will have earned the university thousands of dollars in apparel sales. He will have altered the next two weekends for thousands of Akron fans. Those six seconds will have made a giant impact. Akron still has to play 60 minutes of basketball before we can go that far, though.
The MAC divides NCAA Tournament revenue evenly, so the champion will get the same share as Toledo. Sports information director Gregg Bach told me that some conferences, like the Missouri Valley, divide money with RPI incentives. For example, if your RPI meets a certain threshold, you get a bigger chunk. Isn't that how it should be?
WMU's band is playing "Any Way You Want It" by Journey. Expect a 20-point surge by the Broncos. Wait! That's Akron's band! I'm calling the game now.
Conyers is back guarding Kool. The Zips senior has done the best job on the MAC Player of the Year among the players Keith Dambrot has assigned to the task. Victims include Chris McKnight (on switches), McNees, McClanahan and Roberts.
Now it's McNees on Kool, who responded by draining a 3.
The Zips are doing a great job on the offensive glass, particularly Chris McKnight. If Akron loses tonight, his career is likely over.
You have to be impressed by the jumbotron at The Q. It's amazing to see a high-def screen that big. With that said, I'm going to Dallas next weekend for a Law Review convention. We are going to tour Cowboys Stadium. I am so pumped up for that.
Because I'll be in Dallas, I won't be able to cover the NCAA Tournament if Akron is involved. There are no first-round sites in Texas. The weekend after, I'll be in Wisconsin, which is hosting a first-weekend schedule. I suppose Akron needs to win tonight and tomorrow before any of this becomes even semi-relevant.
WMU moved to a 2-3 zone. Cvetinovic has traveled twice in the past few minutes. He calls it the Serbian Shuffle. Actually, he doesn't.
With back-to-back 3s, WMU is within two.
Akron now has seven fouls with 11:45 left. That is bad news, because WMU is the best free-throw shooting team in the conference.
Chris McKnight airballed a 12-footer. The more embarrassing thing is only five WMU fans chanted "air-ball" and they were in the band. The last I checked, this is America.
Kool is getting hot. He tied the game with a fade-away from 18 with McClanahan's hand in his face. He is 10-for-16 tonight, 5-of-8 on 3s -- for a total of 31 points.
The refs made a bad call on a loose ball, whistling Conyers for a foul on Kool, who is automatic from the line. He made both to re-tie the game.
McLemore chucked a deep 3 that hit only air. Once again, Hawkins should pull him aside and explain to him that they have David Kool on the floor.
Kool is really playing to the WMU crowd. Looking up there and smiling. I've seen this happen a million times in pro wrestling. The bad guy starts show-boating while the good guy hulks up.
Lawson bit on a Conyers pump fake. He landed almost on Conyers shoulders. I speculate that around 100 smart alecks at The Q turned to their neighbor and dead-panned: "He tea-bagged him." Their words, not mine. Lawson stayed down for about a minute, then got up.
Despite foul trouble, Akron is still playing aggressively on defense.
Brett McKnight grabbed a huge offensive rebound with 3:38 left. WMU fouled him as he tried to put it back up. Both teams have eight fouls now. That was Lawson's fourth foul.
Has anyone else noticed that Akron has a male cheerleader who was separated at birth from Kool? They are even about the same height.
Whitfield is playing rough with Marshall when the 7-footer gets the ball. Certainly, it is a result of the Zips being in the one-and-one.
WMU opened up a three-point lead after two Kool free throws. 2:33 left.
Conyers came up with a big steal and forwarded the ball to Brett McKnight for a breakaway dunk. WMU is up one with the ball. 1:48 left.
The ball went to McLemore, who spun into the lane and laid it in. WMU is up three with 1:24 left.
Chris McKnight swished a 3 from the corner to tie the game. Timeout WMU. Tied game with 56 seconds left. Maybe Akron has been relying on the wrong McKnight at crunch time.
If WMU is smart, they will get their shot off with at least 40 seconds left so they can get the two-for-one. Kool dribbled into the lane and lost it. Akron can use all but seven seconds of the clock. They darn well better.
I've said this before, but McNees should get the ball here. Give him instructions to dribble drive with about four seconds left on the clock. He can dish, lay it up or pull up and shoot.
McNees got to the rim and it spun out. Chris McKnight gathered the rebound and put it back with seven seconds left. Kool drove down the court and missed a deep jumper with his foot on the line. The ball caromed away from the rim as the clock expired. Akron is going to the finals.
Final score -- Akron 66, Western Michigan 64
Final stats of note: Kool finished with 39 points but two critical turnovers at the end of the game. Chris McKnight had 18 points and eight rebounds. WMU shot 47 percent. Akron shot 41 percent. WMU had 17 turnovers, compared to 12 from Akron. Those five extra possessions were the difference.
What McNees did yesterday, Chris McKnight did tonight. Akron would not be advancing without his play. His 3-pointer and his last-ditch putback are the reason Akron is playing in the finals.
This is Dambrot's fourth-straight trip to the MAC Finals. This shows he knows how to manage his team, in regards to psychology and X's and O's. I'm still waiting for him to get his deserved MAC Coach of the Year award. His mantle should have at least two by now.
I won't be staying for the Miami-Ohio game. Puppet party. I would feel much more comfortable playing Miami, who is a solid team, but not one I feel can beat the Zips. Actually, the teams are comparable to the 2007 matchup in the finals, when Miami won with Penno's Prayer.
I'm hard on Chris McKnight, but I have to give him his due. This will be HIS fourth-straight championship game, too.
If I'm a WMU fan, I'm blaming the big men, who shouldn't have bothered dressing for the game.
"It was a terrific game. I told our guys we did a little better on their best player. He had 42 last night, only 39 tonight. He was terrific. We had our hands full with him. Western Michigan is a tough team. Physically and mentally, they are one of the best teams in the league. We could just not put them away. They have the best player on the floor, which makes it difficult. He makes play after play after play and we had no answer for him."
"Zeke has good enough feet to guard him (Kool). He's so darn long. He's done a terrific job of not playing nervous in big games. You have to give him a lot of credit."
"Realistically, we were picked first, but we weren't that great of a team. We played three really good games last year after Toledo. We lose our best player Nate Linhart and everybody picks us first. We have winning tradition. We have been a bunch of close games this year, and we have won most of them. This isn't like the teams with Travis and Joyce. Every game is a struggle for us. I don't think we have one guy on this team that would start on that team."
"We are the only team in America that has only one guy in double figures -- and a measly 10.2 points per game at that -- and has 24 wins. You can say, our team is a team. No matter what happens tomorrow, they've given us a tremendous season. To play in four straight championship games is more than I could have expected when I took the job."
"We've had a lot of guys who care about winning. These guys are playing for the guys of the past, Rob Preston, Matt Futch and guys like that."
"We try really hard. For us to come into the tournament and elevate our performance is very hard. Because they try really hard, I could have lived with any result. If lost today, I could have lived with it because we tried really hard."
"Maybe we're just getting some reciprocity (from Penno's Prayer). Maybe we got a little bit of luck now. But you have to put yourself in place to be lucky, which we have."
"After Kent destroyed us in our building, we could have quit, but we didn't. It's hard to lose a game like that and come out and win a close game."
"Those are the shots that coach draws up for us. In games like this, you gotta make them."
"When we played them at their place, we went into the paint and went outside. That's how we run our offense."
"Every time I've been here, we've been there (the finals). All we have to do is play our game and we're going back to the NCAA Tournament."
"I was shocked that the ball came out (on McNees' shot). I was in the right place at the right time. Got the box out and put it back in. It was good to get that because I missed one earlier in the year at Ball State. We went into overtime."
"There is not a shot in the world that he (Kool) can't make."
"We have an unbelievable belief structure. We knew we were going to win, somehow."
"Zeke is definitely growing game by game. Every game I can see he progresses a lot. It's a big thing to have a 7-footer. In case we get beat by a guard, it's good to have a 7-footer."
When Kool was shooting the last shot: "I was thinking two years ago, Miami Ohio, last second shot."
"It's going to tire us. I'm definitely tired. The most it can do is give us confidence. It shows we have heart. It shows we have tremendous fight."
"Really a hard-fought game. Both teams did everything they could. It is just a really, really difficult pill to swallow right now."
Cutting off Kool answering a question that said the turnover was the difference in the game: "The turnover wasn't the difference in the game."
"What you saw tonight epitomizes the heart of the seniors. It wasn't always pretty. We have an interesting team dynamic. We have three seniors, one junior, who is actually a walk-on, and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. They learned what it takes to be a Bronco. We have freshmen in the locker room who saw how much it hurt David."
"When you're dealing with it in the moment, you don't know what kind of game he's having in terms of numbers. We had to keep calling things to get him the ball in open space. In the first half, we struggled with that. Our ball screen offense, we turned the ball over too much."
On the last possession: "We wanted to get the ball in David's hands and not call a timeout. The thought ran through my head was, 'Will he do what McNees did last night to Eastern.'"
"From a numbers standpoint, you could say it's offensive rebounding, but we had turnovers. We knew Akron is an emotional team. When things are going well, they play well. When things are going bad, they can go in different directions."
"They are a very physical team. I don't mean this in a negative way, but we told our guys at halftime that we have to make things a little more obvious. They only had three fouls. For as aggressive of a team as they are to only have three fouls in one half, we had to make it more obvious. We had to block out, making their over-the-backs more obvious."
"I had the chance to work with Coach Wooden for 10 years in his camps. There are very few people who when you walk away from them, you want to be a better person. Coach Wooden is one of those people. ... (long pause) ... I had four years of that with David. That's the best way I could put it."
"Coming down to the end, trying to make a play. They did a good job knocking it away."
On last-second shot: "I really didn't know how much time was left on the clock. I tried to push it down the best I could. I got a good look at it."
(Fighting back tears) ... "It was a tremendous honor to play on this court with my teammates and with my coaches and with the fans. It is something I will cherish in my heart forever."
"In my career, playing with David, it has been exciting, tremendous. To play with a player like David is crazy. I've learned a lot from David. Not even on the court. As a people person. Never give up. Fight through a lot of stuff."
Has everyone recovered from last night? I was driving home on the turnpike when Steve McNees hit his miracle 3. I felt like driving 140 MPH the whole way home. What a thrilling game!
It equally impressed me that McNees took the ball down the floor with confidence and certainty of what needed to be done. He had no interest in passing the ball. He didn't need time to gather his thoughts. He slashed through the backcourt and swished the deep 3 with Brandon Bowdry's hand coming toward his face.
We will never forget Doug Penno ending Romeo Travis' and Dru Joyce's careers. But with Humpty Hitchens' 3 in last year's quarterfinals and McNees' 3 last night, Akron has caught up with karma, if such a concept exists.
McNees has continued to impress me with his poise this season. He is calm, fearless and intelligent--a great combination for a point guard.
Thanks to his six seconds of performance, Akron's season continues tonight against Western Michigan, which also features a cold-blooded guard, David Kool.
One weakness that this team has (and one that most people have ignored) is the lack of a great perimeter defender. Last year, it was Nate Linhart. He could lock down any guard or small forward.
Yes, Jimmy Conyers is defender of the year. But Conyers is only an average perimeter defender. His best work is done in the post, where he can use his strength. Humpty Hitchens is quick, but not laterally. He gets toasted off the dribble at least five times a game. Darryl Roberts has played solid defense in spurts. McNees tries hard, but he can't force stops on a MAC Player of the Year.
We saw how Carlos Medlock was unstoppable last night. Kool scored 30 against Akron on Jan. 27. The Zips still won, 79-70, but only because they shot 53 percent from the floor. That won't happen too often. Akron needs a better strategy against Kool, who is facing the end of his college career.
Akron will need to shoot well on 3s to win. Perimeter defense is not a strength for WMU. We know Akron relies heavily on deep shooting. It's a facet that must go for the Zips.
And the Broncos killed Akron on the boards on Jan. 27. The Broncos are the MAC's best rebounding team. The Zips also need to limit offensive rebounds.
I think most people would agree that Akron is the better overall team. The Zips need to stay focused on getting to the finals, not on whom they may play when they get there and not on the fact that Kent State will be absent.
News and notes...
Akron is a four-point favorite to win. The over-under is between 132 and 134. I would take Akron and the over (if I was in Las Vegas and gambling was legal).
According to WMU beat writer, Graham Couch, the Broncos are a better team than the last time Akron played them because of the emergence of sophomore power forward Flenard Whitfield. The writer also focuses on the energy Akron expended yesterday afternoon. Both are valid points.
The Zips tip off against Bowling Green in the MAC semifinals at 2:30 p.m. today. The Falcons have beaten Akron twice this season.
Tom Gaffney previewed the game.
Here is a Wall Street Journal article calling the MAC the "little conference that couldn't" because no school in the conference has won a national title in 45 years.
The article failed to mention how Akron has two individual national champions in the past two years.
Akron stayed alive and its greatest impediment to repeating as MAC Champions died.
A 3-pointer by Steve McNees with 0.8 seconds in overtime gave Akron new life, much like Humpty Hitchens did against Toledo last year. The Zips pulled away in double-overtime to win, 97-89. Meanwhile, Kent State was never in the game against Ohio. The Flashes lost, 81-64.
Kent State could not survive a 38-point onslaught from Ohio's Armon Bassett. Akron, however, weathered 42 points by Carlos Medlock.
The Zips will play tomorrow at 7 p.m. against Western Michigan. With Miami beating Buffalo, Akron is 5-0 against the three teams remaining in the field.
Watch McNees make one of the biggest shots in the program's history below:
"Steve McNees, pure as can be!"
Keep updating your browser as the afternoon progresses...
The Zips are 6.5-point favorites. In other MAC spreads, Western Michigan is a two-point favorite over the higher-seeded Central Michigan. Kent State is a five-point favorite over Ohio. Buffalo is favored by a point over Miami.
I am in class right now (or class is about to start, if you're one of my professors reading this). But at 12:15, I'll be heading to Cleveland to catch the end of the CMU-WMU game, which will determine Akron's next opponent.
Here are some articles to read at the office while you're waiting for the game to start: Read Tom Gaffney's article about the women's win last night. Gaffney also broke down today's game, saying Akron is looking for a repeat of last year's streakiness. The Buchtelite did a nice job breaking down the men's bracket. In the Eastern Echo, EMU coach Charles Ramsey says his team has a certain confidence against the Zips.
(This next article deserves a blog paragraph of its own.) Habitual truth-teller Terry Pluto wrote about what it will take for the MAC to regain its status of 10 years ago: better scheduling and winning a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.
I am in Cleveland on press row. Western Michigan has come back from a 13-point second-half deficit to take the lead with 3:44 remaining. David Kool is leading WMU with 19 points. Robbie Harman has 18 for CMU.
I was on campus today for a class and a seminar. It's the best time of the year to be a college student--when the skies clear and the sun melts. People are outside for reasons other than walking to class. It seems like everyone is in a better mood. I will miss it next year when I have to be in an office all day.
Speaking of next year, I was thinking that this might be my final weekend of covering sports. I am nowhere close to deciding whether I will keep blogging after taking the bar, but it's likely that my new job at a law firm in Cleveland (along with city council) will preclude it. If I had to guess, I would say that I'll try to do it, and keep doing it until it becomes too much, or until I feel that I can't give my best effort. Gaffney keeps reminding me that I have to blog until he retires (because he doesn't want them to ask him to blog). He's half joking, I think. Michael Beaven would do, and has done, a great job in my stead. We'll see...
WMU has opened up a five-point lead with 2:41 to play. Who would be the better matchup for Akron? The Zips played both teams on the road, beating WMU by nine in regulation and overcoming CMU by four in overtime. Still, I don't know if I want to play Kool (the MAC Player of the Year) in what could be his final collegiate game.
Down six, CMU missed a 3-point attempt. They fouled. Demetrius Ward is at the line for two with a chance to ice it. He missed both. Uh oh. Nevermind. CMU missed another 3 and committed another foul.
It's 2:15 and this game isn't over yet. I assume they'll need 30 minutes between games. That is bad news for the likelihood I'll be able to stay for the entire Zips game. I have a council meeting at 6:15 in Stow. And no, I don't want to risk getting stuck in Cleveland traffic while council is considering the 2010 budget.
WMU missed two more free throws. CMU finally decided to get a layup. The lead is four with 33 seconds left. Kool is at the line.
After some more missed CMU attempts and made WMU free throws, the game is over. So too might be CMU's status as one of the better MAC West teams. Losing its two senior guards, Harman and Jordan Bitzer, will hurt. CMU also will lose its fourth- and fifth-leading scorers. Final score: WMU 69, CMU 60. The Broncos will face either Akron or Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m. tomorrow.
We are four minutes into the game, but I haven't blogged yet because of a couple technical problems, which are now cured.
Humpty Hitchens and Brandon Bowdry got hit with dual technical fouls because of a skirmish they had in the post.
The media received a notice of "probable starters" that listed Nik Cvetinovic as starting. Zeke Marshall ended up starting. I wonder if this was a game-time hunch of Keith Dambrot.
Cvetinovic easily took Bowdry off the dribble. To say Bowdry was a step slow would be a compliment to the EMU forward. Cvetinovic dumped the ball off to Marshall for a powerful dunk.
A hoard (flock?) of Eastern Michigan fans is sitting behind me. It's novel to hear frustration from fans other than the vocal ones who are normally near me at Rhodes Arena.
Hitchens and Ronnie Steward are on the court together. From across the floor, I'm not sure I can tell them apart. They have similar body types and hair styles.
Jamell Harris banked in his first free throw, then made his second. I almost wonder if it was intentional. Maybe he was paying tribute to a friend or maybe he lost a bet.
EMU moved into a 2-3 zone.
Justin Dobbins has made two consecutive attempts from the post. He celebrated the second with a dance that looked like he was trying to shake ants out of his underbritches. Part II of the celebration included an airball of the and-one attempt.
Two Akron players who will play well this weekend: Darryl Roberts and Cvetinovic.
Three-thirty p.m. is coming. Why is that significant? Sources tell me that's when the fill the media room with food. And let me tell you, food at The Q is exquisite. Last year, it was a seafood/pasta concoction that I can still taste ... scallops, shrimp, crab (imitation or not, it didn't matter).
Neither team has made a run yet. That is unusual in these games. It very well might be a grind-it-out game.
I wish I could be writing more right now for those of you sitting in your offices, but this game is rather dull. With three minutes left in the half, both teams are one foul away from the double-bonus.
Akron's fan turnout is pretty good. There are about 50 AK-Rowdies sitting in the lower bowl. Standing in the lower bowl, that is.
Bowdry has 10 points. He is so athletic and active. If only he could hit the occasional 12-footer, he'd be First-Team All-MAC. In reality, he can't shoot worth a lick.
Akron got the last shot of the half. EMU trapped Steve McNees on one sideline. McNees chucked it across the court to Conyers, who hit a 3 at the buzzer. The Zips ended the half on a 9-1 run.
Marshall scored six points for Akron to start the second half. Watch out if he gets motivated.
Cvetinovic took a fade-away 16-footer with a hand in his face. The result was an airball and Dambrot throwing his hands in the air. This was part of a series of bad possessions that permitted a 7-0 EMU run.
I'm sitting next to Mike Hrusch, Ohio.com's Kent State blogger. He says that the worst three teams for Kent to play are Akron, Ohio and Buffalo--not necessarily in that order. Ironically, those are probably the teams Kent will play.
Marshall wisely was playing off Bowdry, who was a step inside the 3-point line. Bowdry fired a bottle rocket off the side of the rim. The more this guy thinks he can shoot, the better it is for opponents.
Carlos Medlock leads the game with 15 points, but Roberts is playing tight defense on him, fighting through screens.
EMU's coach, Ramsey, spent a bulk of the media timeout staring down two referees. He joined the huddle eventually.
Akron is using an unusual three-guard, two-center lineup.
The Eagles clawed back to within three.
The McKnights have combined for five points, seven fouls and zero mentions in the blog until now.
Cvetinovic fouled out with 7:25 left. He did a great job on Bowdry. Mike Bardo is at the end of Akron's bench stretching out his ankle. Both McKnights now have four fouls, so the Zips might need a body to bang against Bowdry and Dobbins.
A fan behind me (who sounds knowledgeable about basketball) is praising Akron for its guard play, saying McNees and Hitchens are difficult because they can both get into the lane and they can both shoot.
The ball went out of bounds and neither ref in position knew who touched it last. Apparently, neither did McNees, whom the EMU players claimed the ball went off. McNees called for a jump ball. The refs did him one better and gave the ball to Akron.
Chris McKnight fouled out on a call that is getting Akron fans really upset. He came under the arms of Bowdry after Bowdry pulled down a rebound.
Dambrot is stomping his feet after a traveling violation. The fans are really getting upset at the refs, too. The AK-Rowdies are chanting: "Don't drink and ref." Hitchens picked up his fourth foul on another questionable whistle.
Unfortunately, I have to get out of here. I can't afford to get stuck in traffic and be late to the council meeting. I'll blog from tomorrow's game if Akron is still alive.
4:42 -- Akron 61, Eastern Michigan 56
Akron snapped a nine-game MAC Tournament losing streak by trouncing the fifth-seeded Eastern Michigan Eagles in the MAC semifinals tonight, 72-46.
It was a matchup between the MAC's best offense, EMU, and the conference's best defense, Akron. The Zips stymied the Eagles by holding them to 37.5 percent shooting.
Next up is conference powerhouse Bowling Green. The Zips and Falcons square off Friday at 2:30 p.m.
The Plain Dealer's Elton Alexander wrote about how far this program has come and the philosophy of MAC Coach of the Year Jodi Kest. Winning on Friday would be a landmark achievement on a season that has already impacted the school record books.
I will break down the Akron-EMU matchup tomorrow morning. I will also be liveblogging from The Q, so you'll have something to check while sitting in the office.
Jimmy Conyers received another major award today, being named to the All-MAC Team.
Chris McKnight and Brett McKnight received Honorable Mention status. Zeke Marshall was on the All-Freshman team to round out Akron's representation.
The First Team also included Buffalo's Rodney Pierce, Miami's Kenny Hayes, Western Michigan David Kool (who was the Player of the Year), and Kent State's Chris Singletary. Here is the full list of winners:
After sweeping rival Akron and winning the regular season championship, the odds are 2-to-1 that Kent State will advance to the NCAA Championship.
Akron's chances are 5-to-2. Here is the rest of the breakdown from TheSpread.com.
Keep refreshing your browser for updates during the game...
The university, knowing the nation is watching, lit up InfoCision Stadium for the overhead blimp to capture.
I'm sitting beside the west basket, near the AK-Rowdies. Last time this happened, they mistook me for a Kent fan (or something) and started attacking me. Or maybe it was that I popped their beach ball at a football game. I can't remember for sure.
I'm wearing white. Yes, I considered that the media is to remain impartial, and that going along with this "white out" thing is supporting one team over another. Let's be real, though. I'm more of a lawyer than a journalist now.
I can't see the stands immediately behind me, but it looks like Akron fans are outnumbering Kent fans at a 10-to-1 clip. It's possible, of course, there is a big batch of them in the west endzone.
Michael Reghi sat next to me. As you know from multiple past posts, he is my all-time favorite commentator. If I were at home watching, I'd pissed he's not the commentator.
It was sort of neat seeing people at law school today and being able to tell immediately who was going to the game by their white clothing. I know of at least 30 people going in groups. My girlfriend is going to witness her first Zips game. If Akron-Kent is your first, it probably won't be your last.
Keith Dambrot is not wearing a white suit. I was hoping for that. Bruce Pearl, he is not.
Akron starters: Steve McNees, Jimmy Conyers, Humpty Hitchens, Nik Cvetinovic and Chris McKnight. Kent starters: Justin Greene, Chris Singletary, Frank Henry-Ala, Tyree Evans, and Rodriguez Sherman.
I'm a little surprised to see Cvetinovic start. Dambrot is showing confidence in the sophomore's ability to control his emotions.
This place is ALIVE. And it's packed to capacity. There are people up in the corners, where the janitors haven't cleaned since the Cavs scrimmage here. Of the fans I can see, the ratio is about 20-1 Akron fans. That's no exaggeration. The coloring of shirts makes it much easier to estimate.
Cvetinovic proved Dambrot right on the first possession, knocking down a mid-range jumper and grabbing the game's first rebound.
For the third time this season, Kent State is wearing its black jerseys.
Henry-Ala fought off McNees for a loose ball, with Henry-Ala's elbow getting a little wild. Fans booed, but no one would have noticed if this wasn't Kent vs. Akron.
Singletary went to the free throw line, and the AK-Rowdies reminded him of his most infamous (alleged) statistic.
Zeke Marshall entered the game. I want to see how he responds in this atmosphere.
Conyers is everywhere you want him to be on the floor. He just tapped back a missed Marshall hook.
During a timeout, Tom Wistrcill gave outgoing Kent State AD Laing Kennedy a commemorative Wagon Wheel plaque. On the jumbotron, they showed a picture of Kennedy posing with Zippy. That is the most tasteful way to slap a rival in the face: Give him a miniature of the trophy his football team rarely secured, then blast up a picture of him posing with your mascot. God bless you, Mr. Wistrcill.
Brett McClanahan has made three bad decisions in a row. He failed to block out, giving up an easy layup. He didn't go after a loose ball, thinking it would go out of bounds; it didn't. He bit on a fake pass during a fast break, allowing a layup.
If you don't play smart against Kent (or Akron, for that matter), you'll quickly give up a lead. That's the Zips position now.
I was just informed via text message that the InfoCision Stadium lights are no longer lit for the blimp. Thanks, Steve. I'm getting a lot of texts from people in the building and at home. Sorry if I'm not responding. There's a lot going on here.
McClanahan made it four poor decisions. He heaved a long 3-pointer early in the clock.
Brandon Parks is shouting toward Marshall, who shrugged him off. An AK-Rowdie reminded Parks: "You haven't done anything!"
The women's tennis team is ranked 67th in the nation. The Zips play their home matches in the beautiful city of Stow, which is always looking for entrepreneurs with wonderful, ingenious business plans.
Sherman crossed over Hitchens badly and scooted the rim for a layup. The Zips, meanwhile, haven't had a shot fall in seven minutes. Cvetinovic broke the streak.
On the bright side, Conyers is doing a great job on Greene. The Akron senior just drew an offensive foul as Green attempted to post him up.
I learned via text message that Dambrot is wearing tennis shoes. I don't think it's related to the Coaches Vs. Cancer event because Geno Ford is wearing dress shoes.
Kent State is getting a lot of easy looks close to the rim. Meanwhile, Akron is missing open looks at 3s.
Mike McKee, Singletary and Hitchens all went down in a heap of bodies under the hoop. Singletary, at first, gave a facial expression like he was going to pound Hitchens. He cooled down. And they all hugged it out.
I'm trying to find my girlfriend who said she is "sitting next to some [explitive] wearing yellow." Thanks for really narrowing it down. Why didn't you just say you were sitting next to someone with two ears?
For you Reghi fanatics, he told me he'll be calling all four game on Thursday, both games on Friday and the championship on Saturday.
Kent State is firing efficient outlet passes, which are giving the Flashes numbers going the other way.
Cvetinovic has six points. He seems to be the only player who can isolate.
Conyers picked up his second foul. With a couple minutes left in the half, Dambrot won't risk a third before the buzzer.
Parks, who is quickly becoming my least favorite player on my least favorite team, tried to bulldog his way to the rim. The ref called him for an offensive foul. Parks pointed to the jumbotron, as if there was a replay to exonerate him. It was showing live action.
Chris McKnight picked up his third foul.
Halftime stats of note: Conyers leads both teams with 10 points. Singletary has nine. Henry-Ala leads the game with seven rebounds. Chris McKnight has six. Akron is shooting only 27 percent, compared to Kent's 42 percent. Akron is 1-for-11 on 3s. Kent is 0-for-9. Akron has 11 turnovers; Kent, nine.
Singletary picked up his third foul 18 seconds into the first half. That hurts Kent. I think you'll see Kent go into Greene more often to get Conyers to pick up his third. Greene finally scored his first points.
Evans also picked up his third foul. That makes two of Kent's top four players who are in foul trouble.
The Flashes opened their biggest lead of the game of 12 after a McKee 3 and a Sherman fast-break dunk. That one-twentieth of the crowd is getting noisy. Brett McKnight responded with his own 3.
Sherman made a 3 to extend it to 14. Anthony Simpson hit another to extend it to 17. McClanahan charged on the next possession. Simpson dunked it on the next time down. The Zips are imploding again. Deja vu of Jan. 23.
Chris McKnight gave Hitchens a pep talk. He's doing his best to salvage his final game at Rhodes Arena.
Hitchens is pressuring freshman guard Randal Holt as Holt brings the ball up the court. The Zips need to throw a change up to Kent in some form. Simpson, in particular, is splashing everything he throws up there.
The fan banter between Kent State fans and Akron fans is always off the wall. Rarely does it focus on basketball. Normally, the discussions is of counting felonies, of which is the better institution, or of who was right on May 4, 1970.
Singletary has been on the bench for eight minutes, and Kent built a lead. That is very good news for Ford.
Sherman burned Hitchens again. Nobody was there on the weakside help, so it was an easy bucket.
Singletary committed his fourth foul. With nine minutes left and Kent State up 19, does it matter?
Jeremy Guy, the media relations representative for MAC basketball, said first round games are at campus sites this year because it's harder to keep the Cavaliers away from Quicken Loans Arena for so long.
Akron has begun to press Kent State with 7:30 left. So far, so bad. Simpson beat it with a layup.
Brett McKnight swatted Greene on a dunk attempt. Hitchens missed a wide-open 3 that would have let the Zips capitalize. Simpson made a jumper on the next time down, extending Kent's lead to 19 with five minutes to play.
An AK-Rowdy told Simpson to "close his mouth." Simpson looked over and stuck out his tongue.
Fans are trickling out of the arena with five minutes left. Zips down 20.
My secret formula for nailing the coffin shut is: Deficit > (minutes left x 2) + 6. With Deficit = 20 and Minutes = 5, the fans are correct to leave.
As the No. 3 seed, Akron will play the winner of Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan at 2 p.m. Thursday. Those teams will play on Sunday. Both can and have beaten Akron in the past 25 months.
To me, this game was a blowout for three reasons: 1) Kent's great shooting, particularly at important moments. 2) Akron's poor defense, individual and team, inside and outside -- just a bad effort all over. 3) The Zips' bad outside shooting (2-for-15 on 3s).
You can turn off the lights to this arena (barring a CBI home game). The Zips went 13-4 at Rhodes Arena, which is a subpar five months of protecting this gym.
Final stats of note: Kent State shot 52 percent, compared to Akron's 39. The Zips were 3-of-18 on 3s; Kent was 3-of-12. Kent outrebounded Akron 36 to 30. Simpson led both teams with 23. Conyers had 18. Simpson and Henry-Ala had nine rebounds apiece.
Here is a good question: Is the 3 seed better off than than 1 seed? The 1 seed has the third and fourth best teams (Buffalo and Miami) on its side of the bracket. Kent State will play Ohio or Bowling Green in the first round, then probably Miami or Buffalo in the second round.
Final score -- Akron 61, Kent State 74
"Foul trouble is something that I've been dealing with all season. Teammates have been stepping up all season. Anthony is capable of doing that any night."
"Being that we got six seniors and we felt last year we didn't do a good job competing for the MAC Championship. It feels great."
"Coach (Armon) Gates just told me, 'Congratulations.' That's something we weren't able to do his senior year. Akron beat him three times. It's always big to come here and get a win."
"I think we're 14-0 when Anthony (Simpson) is in double figures."
"Being able to get in the right position. Akron does a good job at chasing the hedge so our big men are open a lot."
"We're not trying to prove anyone wrong. We're not worried about what the media say."
If KSU doesn't win, "It would be another team executing better than us. We are going to give a championship effort."
"It's always big to get a win here."
When asked: How much bigger was it because it was for a conference title? "I don't know. Maybe we'll see later on tonight."
"Chris' mom called him earlier and said, 'Be a dog.' He was calling me kitty cat earlier. We weren't trying to lose. That was the only thing going through my head."
"My teammates and the refs were saying, 'Don't say anything (to the fans.)' Now I can look at them and laugh."
On his hot shooting: "I was unconscious."
"We lost here last year. That was a lot of motivation right there."
"One thing our coaches kept on telling us was, 'Keep on attacking,' no matter how much we were up. We were trying our best to get consecutive stops and execute on offense."
"I just started smiling when Anth(ony) hit his three."
"The one thing we've been preaching since Italy is winning a MAC Championship for our seniors."
"To win a conference championship, you have to win on the road. I felt we played really, really well, and they were not great in the first half. That was the difference. They couldn't get it to a close enough score for us to fold. Fortunately, we were lucky. Anthony Simpson made some big plays."
"The perception of Kent State basketball is that we're a national program. We've had a team for 100 years, but we've only done this four times in our history. What we did is pretty special."
"The loss at Buffalo, we weren't even competitive. At that stage in the year, we tried to just throw it out."
"It's a culture. To be fair, Akron has the same toughness culture we do. That's what we hang our hat on. We hang our hat on coming up with loose balls. We hang our hat on finishing around the rim."
"They got some good looks and missed them early. We needed them to not shoot well from 3. Three-for-12 for us is about par for the course. Defending 3s for us is of the utmost importance."
"Anthony is a face-up guy. I thought he just had one of those nights when it was clicking for him. He really played at a high level."
"We felt like we were going to be pretty good. I think it's a good motivational tool to be picked where you're picked. Those things don't mean much."
"I'm going to enjoy this for a day or two. At our level, the interesting thing is, if our conference RPI was a little higher. ESPN will talk about St. Mary's and Cornell being on the bubble, and their RPIs are lower than us. We have to win a couple more games and get to Saturday first."
"The tough one to win is the regular season championship. The fun one is the tournament, because you get to go to the NCAAs."
"That's probably the first time in my six years that we've gotten our ass beat that bad at home. The score wasn't even indicative of how they beat us. They played well. We just didn't play with any discipline. We had no offensive discipline. No defensive discipline. Whatever team has won this series has taken better shots than the other team. Our shot selection was awful. We got outside of our realm. We didn't play as a team."
"The sad thing is, we had a terrific year. I wish it would have been a much better game than that, but we didn't play well enough to give it a chance. I think about the only spot they didn't destroy us was the 2 spot. The 5 man killed us. The 4 man killed us. Rod Sherman beat our brains in. I know what it takes to beat them, and we didn't do any of those things."
"I don't think it's a particularly great matchup, but I don't think it's as bad of a matchup as it was tonight. Comparing scores, they didn't do that to a lot of other people, at least in their building. They're old and tough. Last year was a good eye-opener for them. They came ready to play. Maybe we're not as good as I think. We were jittery. That is the best way to describe it. We have showed signs of that before. We didn't play that jittery against Gonzaga."
"We going to have to change what we did. We knew we couldn't come down and take those shots and win, but we did it anyway. When you show a lack of discipline, it was like we were a last place team. If we don't rally ourselves, we will get beat in the first round. It's going to be hard to go in and believe you can beat them after they beat you on your home floor."
"We knew either way that this is the little prize and the big prize is on the line. When you get beat like that, it's not an easy job to rally your troops. We've been dead in the water before with this group. Ball State is going through it right now. They're struggling. They basically gave away the West. We just got to be positive. We have to bring our lunch pail and go to work."
"I'm not trying to say in any means that Kent didn't play well. They did."
"I don't like to lose and I really don't like to lose to Kent. I'm mature enough to know we have to get onto the next one. We were written off for dead last year. If we play again, hopefully we will, the point spread will be a little different than it was today. People won't expect us to win."
"They're a little older than us, but I can't use that as an excuse for our guys. They've had more of a consistent season than us. They've been a little better than we have."
"Last year was an abberation for Kent. They're playing like the old Kent teams now."
"Once we started scrambling, I'm not upset about that. We're going to give up baskets when we're scrambling."
"Rod Sherman is the reason they win. Rod Sherman is why they win. Rod Sherman didn't play last year. You do the math. He is a winning guy. Right now, they have three guys who are First Team All-MAC."
"We played one good half against them out of four halves. We haven't had much trouble against anyone else in the league. They're a lot better than we are. That's the only thing I can say after the performances we have. That's not easy for me to say."
"We just threw the damn thing out of bounds. We just played flustered. We never said, 'Enough is enough. We'll just play relaxed.' Jimmy has good numbers, but he just played on his own island. You're not going to win like that. We shot it when we should pass. We passed it when we should shoot. We dribbled it when we should shoot. And we threw it to the other team half the game."
"They came in here and won the championship. They should celebrate. So they tried to throw an alley-oop. None of that bothers me. I didn't think anything was bad. I think they're respect among the two teams. The fans probably hate each other."
"I tried to wear these LeBrons (shoes) because he has done a lot for this program, but I think I should have asked him to play tonight."
The big day has arrived. Aside from the opening of InfoCision Stadium, this is the most anticipated game of the school year.
Akron versus Kent. These games leave lasting memories. Chris Singletary's punch. The post-game skirmish in 2007. Al Fisher's dagger in 2008.
And because the teams are so evenly matched, the games make an impact on the success either team enjoys. Two years ago, Kent State beat Akron in the MAC Tournament finals. The year before that, the Zips bumped Kent from the tournament and beat the Flashes a total of three times.
This game won't determine which team goes to the NCAAs, but it will clinch a postseason appearance for one team. It's not an elimination game, but its hype has been building for weeks, as fans and the media realized March 5 would be the conference's game of the year.
Fans, obviously, dislike each other. But the reality is, they have a lot in common. For the most part, both fanbases also root for the Cavaliers, Indians and Browns. For the most part, they are experiencing the same dreadful economy and weather. Both teams are subjected to Tim Misny and Norton Furniture commercials.
As far as the teams go, in Dave Carducci's story Keith Dambrot said:
You didn't think I lost my marbles, did you? No, I have not been hanging out with Doug Martin. Of course I think Akron will beat Kent. Here are five reasons why...
1) The atmosphere -- You're going to see close to 6,000 people in white, creating the most unique basketball climate that Akron has ever seen. They will be loud and they will be rowdy.
2) A different Zips team -- Akron has gone 9-2 since losing at Kent State. Over the years, Akron has hit cold spells where the team can't score. Akron has improved in limiting these stretches, like the 19-0 one that spoiled the Zips' chances at the M.A.C. Center.
3) Zeke's coming out party -- Zeke Marshall says he plays his best in big games. Keith Dambrot seems to agree, saying that Marshall's main problem has been losing interest and/or not showing enough emotion. This is his first "big" game. He will respond accordingly. Given the crowd's infatuation with the 7-footer, just one big-time block can shift momentum in Akron's favor.
4) Behind the arc -- Akron is capable of piling on points very quickly. The Zips are better than Kent State in both 3-point shooting and 3-point defense. Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts and Humpty Hitchens will be launching 3s if they sense blood in the water. At home, you have more freedom to take risks, knowing that it's easier for the home team to shift the momentum back. Akron wants nothing more than a double-digit lead at halftime.
5) McKnight and McDay -- Dambrot is absolutely right when he says his team is best when the McKnights play well. Since scoring only two points at Kent State, Brett McKnight has averaged 11.5 points per game. Chris McKnight also has averaged double-figures and more than five rebounds since Jan. 23. Considering it's Chris' final home game, we are likely to see the brothers come out strong.
Like Hulk Hogan turning heel at Bash at the Beach 1996 (see below), I am going to sit in Kent State's corner today. Here are five reasons why Keith Dambrot's boys will lose the conference championship on their home floor.
1) Athleticism -- The Zips have struggled with more athletic teams. N.C. State, Texas A&M and VCU have beaten Akron this year. In fact, the program has never won against a top-25 opponent. Four Flashes have high-major caliber athleticism: Anthony Simpson, Justin Greene, Chris Singletary and (arguably) Tyree Evans. We saw Greene, Singletary and Evans combine for nine offensive rebounds against Akron on Jan. 23.
2) The first meeting -- Akron crumbled in the second half. Kent State went on a 19-0 run, and the Zips were helpless to stop it. That sort of dominance, regardless of its duration, strongly indicates which team is better.
3) "When they want to" -- Dambrot swears that Kent State is a great team, but only when they want to be, i.e. when they play hard. With the conference title on the line, Kent State will play hard. Count on it.
4) Road warriors -- The Flashes are also a fantastic road team in MAC games. One of their two road conference losses was in overtime at Miami. With six seniors in the rotation, it's clear why they are poised in a hostile environment.
5) They have done it before -- The last time Akron and Kent played at Rhodes Arena to finish the season was two years ago. Al Fisher drained a deep 3 as the clock expired for a Flashes win. Many of the players on today's roster were on that team. They know how to win at Rhodes Arena in the regular season finale.
Mack Rhoades always felt it important that the football team played six times at home, even if one of those games was against a Division I-AA team.
Although there is a new athletic director, Rhoades' impact is all over this schedule, which begins with two home games and finishes with two home games.
The marquee opponent coming to InfoCision Stadium is Syracuse, which has split two matchups with Akron in the past two seasons. The football purists will be pleased that the first 10 games are played on Saturdays. The Miami game is on Wednesday, and the Zips play Buffalo on the final Friday of the season.
Bowling Green is the only MAC East foe that Akron does not play.
Sept. 4 — Syracuse Sept. 11 — Gardner-Webb Sept. 18 — at Kentucky Sept. 25 — at Indiana Oct. 2 — Northern Illinois (homecoming) Oct. 9 — at Kent State Oct. 16 — at Ohio Oct. 23 — Western Michigan Oct. 30 — at Temple Nov. 6 — at Ball State Nov. 17— Miami Nov. 26 — Buffalo
Fewer than 500 general admission seats remain for Friday's game. I wouldn't want to be left out of this one.
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