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The Zips are 7.5-point favorites tonight. I'd take Akron, if I were a betting man.
One of the surprises of the MAC season occurred last night, when Miami knocked off Kent State at Millet Hall. Perhaps the RedHawks aren't as impotent as we all think.
In other MAC East action tonight, Ohio travels to Buffalo. If the Bobcats can pull off a minor upset, the Zips might go to bed tonight with a three-game cushion for the conference lead.
Pregame - Akron 0, Bowling Green 0
Bowling Green starters: Jordan Crawford, Scott Thomas, A'uston Calhoun, Dee Brown and Cameron Black.
Akron starters: Alex Abreu, Brian Walsh, Nik Cvetinovic, Chauncey Gilliam and Zeke Marshall.
Marshall is growing a beard. It's a good move to mask his baby face. As someone who has a baby face, and uses a beard for that purpose, I can say that.
Bowling Green is playing the 2-3 zone. In the teams' first matchup this season, the Falcons played man defense, getting away from their bread and butter. Louis Orr, of course, is a Syracuse guy, and he is a disciple of Jim Boeheim, who uses the match-up zone.
15:10 - Akron 12, Bowling Green 10
I have been getting a lot of comments from my page-A1 picture in the Sunday Beacon Journal, seated behind Rick Santorum at the Summit County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner. Ironically, Santorum isn't my guy. I have endorsed Mitt Romney.
The Zips have started off torrid from the field, 8-for-13. BG isn't far behind at 7-for-13, but the Falcons also have three turnovers to the Zips' one.
11:41 - Akron 19, Bowling Green 14
One of the un-emphasized stories of this season is Quincy Diggs' success as a point guard, and how it filled a huge roster hole (backup point guard). It's bad news for Deji Ibitayo, but it gives Keith Dambrot a lot more flexibility.
Akron converted to a 2-3 zone on defense. BG's Jehvon Clarke quickly made Akron regret it with a 3 off a swing pass.
7:11 - Akron 29, Bowling Green 23
With 7:02 left in the first half, Marshall scored. This means all nine of Dambrot's rotation players have scored.
Brett McClanahan just fired a 3 that missed the rim by at least six inches. Oof. When he shot it, I looked a Joe Dunn, who doubled over as if he was going to heave.
The Zips' offense has been quite efficient, with 11 assists on 17 field goals.
Ohio has an early lead on Buffalo.
3:38 - Akron 37, Bowling Green 30
Marshall has gone on a scoring binge -- 10 points in the last six minutes.
Halftime - Akron 37, Bowling Green 30
That was a speedy first half. There were only eight combined fouls.
Notable halftime stats: Akron is shooting 60.6 percent; BG is 54.8 percent. Akron has 13 assists and four turnovers (wow). BG has 11 and five (also nice). Marshall and Calhoun have 10 points apiece. Walsh and Black have four rebounds. Thomas and Abreu have four assists (Diggs, three). Akron has made only 2-of-10 3-pointers; BG is 2-of-6.
Akron has gotten into the paint at will. The Zips have 32 points in the paint. That's so absurd that I can identify all of the points that weren't in the paint (Marshall mid-range jumper, Marshall fade away from the baseline, one free throw, two 3-pointers). In fact, Akron is shooting 18-for-23 on field goals that are NOT 3-pointers.
Walsh hit a 3. This guy has developed quite a bit this season. He is likely to become the same sort of all-around player that Nate Linhart was. Linhart's strength was rebounding and defense, but Walsh is improving quickly in those categories.
16:13 - Akron 51, Bowling Green 42
As bad as McClanahan has played this season, the last two weeks have been particularly difficult for the senior guard. In those games, he has a combined four points, three rebounds, three turnovers and seven fouls. He shot 1-for-10. Give Dambrot credit for being loyal, because a lot of fans and media would have stopped trotting No. 5 out there.
Ohio and Buffalo continue to go back and forth. There are also three MAC West games tonight, but I'm done mentioning the JV division, considering its best team is Eastern Michigan, at 6-6. It's safe to say each and every East team is better than each and every West team. The closest it gets is Miami and Western Michigan.
11:33 - Akron 57, Bowling Green 48
My spurt sense is heightening. I think Akron's about to explode for a burst. With Nick Harney, Diggs, Abreu and Walsh on the floor, they have the proper personnel for it.
The Bobcats have opened up a 10-point lead on Buffalo. If both of these games hold, then the Zips will have a three-game lead in the MAC. That is basically unheard of, considering the conference has been won by one-game margins the last nine years.
The downside to Ohio U getting hot is that they are a team that can tear through the tournament without resistance. I was teasing a Bobcats fan, who is a friend of mine. He told me, correctly, "OU knows how to play when it matters."
Demetrius Treadwell is 4-of-4 from the field, but he hasn't gotten off the bench this half. There must be a reason for that.
6:39 - Akron 64, Bowling Green 55
The Zips might salt this game away without a spurt, sending the fans home disappointed. The Zips have maintained a steady lead of 7 to 12 for the entire second half.
Bowling Green has begun trapping the ball. It caused McClanahan to nearly throw it away. After the Zips got the ball back, he did throw it away, and immediately committed a foul after. Here's Dambrot's thought process: If Nitro gets hot -- hits a few 3s -- he'll get his swagger back and return to his productive status. ... But when does this patience end? Akron certainly has enough depth on the wing to reduce McClanahan's minutes.
3:56 - Akron 66, Bowling Green 58
Bowling Green has pulled to within four, mostly because the Zips have failed to put together good possessions. It's been a 7-0 Falcons' run.
Both teams are shooting the one-and-one.
BG will get the ball with a chance to tie, after a three-second call on Marshall, who has been mostly invisible this half.
Walsh made an incredible layup off a fast break, started by an Abreu outlet pass. Walsh crashed into the camera man under the hoop.
1:25 - Akron 69, Bowling Green 64
Bowling Green will get the ball, with a big-time urgency to get some points. They can't allow Akron to get the ball back with a minute left, up five.
Diggs ripped the ball right from Clarke. Abreu penetrated and found a cutting Treadwell, who hung in the air long enough to score a layup. Akron's up seven with a minute left.
Treadwell fouled Thomas, who made two free throws.
0:45 - Akron 71, Bowling Green 66
Thomas fouled Abreu, who made both, re-extending the lead to seven.
Marshall corralled a rebound on the other end, and Thomas fouled him. Marshall made both. That should end it.
0:23 - Akron 75, Bowling Green 68
How do you put away a team? Make free throws. Akron has knocked down six consecutive from the line.
Unbelievable. Bowling Green fouled Cvetinovic with 2 seconds left, down nine.
Final score - Akron 79, Bowling Green 68
This game was closer than the score. The turning point was Walsh's transition layup. The Zips went on a 10-4 run after that shot to end the game.
With the win, Akron clinched a spot in the MAC quarterfinals. In other words, they're a lock for a top-four seed. The big prize is getting the bye to the semifinals (top two seeds). The bigger prize is winning the MAC regular season championship. The biggest prize is winning on Saturday in the MAC Tournament.
Only 12 teams in the nation have won 20 games in each of the last seven seasons. There could be more this year, but 12 so far. Most of them are from the Big East.
Notable final stats: Marshall had 16 points and seven boards. Calhoun scored 18. Thomas dished seven assists. Akron shot 56 percent; BG was 44.6 percent. Akron outrebounded the Falcons, 35 to 25. A total of five Zips scored in double figures. Akron had 19 assists and 13 turnovers. BG had 16 assists and eight turnovers.
Ohio beat Buffalo, 88-77. That's a three-game lead for Akron, over Kent and Buffalo, with three to play. Akron now has a magic number of one to get the bye to the semifinals. In other words, any win by Akron or loss by either Kent or Buffalo will give the Zips the turbo-bye. If Akron wins only one game, they will capture the regular season title and the NIT automatic bid.
"First off, let me say, I went going into the game knowing Bowling Green is pretty good. We had a hard time guarding them. Our defensive philosophy is no layups, no free throws, no 3s. We gave up a lot of twos. Was it a great performance? It's hard for me to judge. It wasn't a dominating performance by any means. I'm not sure we're capable of dominating people. We're not that kind of team."
"The fact of the matter is, we've never had a team that's 12-1 in the league. Where does this team rank? I don't really know. It's a different team than we've ever had before."
"I think we're confident we can win. We kind of clutched up for three minutes late, when they trapped and used clock. Then we made a play. I have to understand that this team is different. They're not quite as disciplined. They'll make more mistakes, but they'll make more big plays."
"As long as you put yourself in position to go to the NCAA Tournament, then you've done your job. When we got beat on the buzzer beater, I wasn't sure if we'd ever go to the NCAA Tournament. I didn't know if it was in the cards."
"I told them, if we win tonight, and we play hard, when we go to Ohio U, we'll go to the movies on Saturday. We won't practice. That's what I used as my motivational tool tonight."
"I felt all along that Zeke is the main difference maker we have. I was upset of how he played the past two week. I started coaching him myself. I took him a half-hour each day after practice. We did 10 minutes of guarding in the post, then 10 minutes of scoring in the post, then 10 minutes of shot blocking. When I work with him, he plays better. He can't have one rebound like he did against Oral Roberts."
"I thought Treadwell played really well in the first half. I knew I had to have three guards in the game because they're going to play zone. But then I'm going to have people mad at me because I don't have enough minutes. I can only play two of them."
"We got openings through their zone."
"I don't want to take a breather. We want to go into the MAC Championship with a good swag and confidence."
On the transition layup: "I just seen an opening lane. Alex threw a great bounce pass. I tried to absorb the contact. Thank God it went in."
"We want to win out. We don't care what anyone else is doing really."
"The tone of the game for us was set in the first half on the defensive end. Anytime we can score 36 points and shoot 55 percent from the floor in the first half on the road, that's a good half for us, but we had too many holes in our defense. They scored 32 of their first 43 in the paint."
"Akron, at home, we can't come in here, play tag, and outscore them. We had to play defense. In the second half, our man-to-man helped us. To win here against a team like Akron, you can't just trade baskets. You gotta get stops. You can't let them have their way in the paint, especially in the first half."
"The dribble penetration, against our zone, and the post-ups. They got some guys, Treadwell, Cvetinovic. With man-to-man, you have to be able to guard them in the post. The penetration hurt us in the first half -- and a lot of that was against the zone."
"We cut down the penetration (in the second half). We were able to get into our 12 trap a little better. Another area for us, that I thought was a concern, we didn't have many turnovers, but they got 16 points off them. We gotta do a better job. We can't allow guys get such easy baskets."
"We got the ball at times to A'uston on some switches. Akron, their guards fight you, and then they give help. You still have to deal with Zeke and their big guys."
"For us, scoring 68 points in this gym, if we play defense, is enough."
"There's a reason why Akron is 12-1 in our league. They've been very tough at home, and they've been consistent. They're one of the teams, with their depth and experience, you've gotta play for 40 minutes, and you've gotta try to play them on your terms. If you look at the game at home, it was 56-55. In my mind, that was on our terms."