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There was some strange weather today, and it might get stranger. A giant storm cloud was tracking toward the JAR as I arrived at the arena. Summit County is under a tornado watch.
The Zips are seven-point favorites tonight. I think that's a fair target for oddsmakers.
Tonight is important for two reasons: 1) It's Senior Night. Nik Cvetinovic, Brett McClanahan and Kyle Peterson will be honored before the game. 2) Akron can lock up its first MAC regular season championship with a win. It would also guarantee the Zips no worse than an NIT bid.
Tidbits about the seniors: Peterson has a 3.745 GPA, majoring in biology. He's trying to go to med school. McClanahan's 81 3-pointers last season was fourth-best in program history. He also tied a program record with 36 appearances. Cvetinovic is tied for second in career games played and is five games away from breaking the school record of 141 (so long as Akron wins in the semifinals, he'll likely get there).
Buffalo's starters: Javon McCrea, Mitchell Watt, Jarod Oldham, Zach Filzen and Auraum Nuiriankh.
Akron's starters: Brian Walsh, Alex Abreu, Nik Cvetinovic, Chauncey Gilliam and Zeke Marshall. McClanahan and Peterson did not get the honorary start on Senior Night. I don't blame Keith Dambrot for that. This is a must-win game for the program.
Pregame - Akron 0, Buffalo 0
The other game of interest tonight is Ohio at Kent State.
Akron's first two possessions ended in traveling violations. The Zips didn't score until a Cvetinovic layup with 17:28 left.
Watt does not have a last name on his jersey. He's the only Bull without one.
McClanahan was the first Zip off the bench, so that's something.
This is an energetic crowd. Buffalo brought about 40 students, and that helps. But there's a certain type of crowd noise that you hear where the fans are excited about the ramifications of the game, as well as the play-by-play results.
The 6-foot-7 McCrea is guarding Marshall, rather than 6-10 Watt. Perhaps Reggie Witherspoon is playing to Marshall's preference to compete against centers his own height.
15:28 - Akron 6, Buffalo 4
The ball has gone into Demetrius Treadwell three possessions in a row on the block.
Buffalo has seen some open looks on 3s, but the Bulls have missed all five attempts.
The Zips are getting the ball deep into the Bulls' defense, but Buffalo refuses to double-down. Witherspoon's strategy must be to make Akron earn its points down low and not allow the kick-out 3.
10:33 - Akron 11, Buffalo 10
Terry Bowden came out to talk about a T-shirt design contest. Eventually he got around to saying what everyone wanted: "Let's beat Buffalo to become the MAC regular season champions."
Abreu threw a beautiful lob pass down the center of the floor -- over everyone's head -- to Nick Harney, who converted a fast-break dunk.
Dambrot is irate at the officials. It started with a ticky-tack foul on Marshall early in the game, and the refs haven't redeemed themselves one bit for Akron's coach or its fans.
Both teams are ice cold on 3s. Akron has missed some very badly. The teams are combined 0-for-12 from distance.
Quincy Diggs has two fouls, both charges after he put his head down and plowed into the paint.
7:24 - Akron 18, Buffalo 18
[gap in blogging transmission]
3:30 - Akron 26, Buffalo 23
McClanahan hit the 3 everyone was waiting for -- the first one of the game (after 14 attempts). He got an extra pop from the crowd because it's Senior Night.
McClanahan broke the ice. Filzen answered with 3 on the next possession. Then Harney splashed a deep one. Two plays later, it was Dave Barnett with a 3. Then Filzen again. The teams had been 0-for-14 on 3s. Now they're 5-for-19.
Kent State is laying the wood to Ohio, 37-21. Wow.
Halftime - Akron 38, Buffalo 34
Notable halftime stats: McCrea and Watt have 10 points apiece. Barnett has five rebounds. Cvetinovic leads Akron with eight points. Both teams have nine assists and six turnovers. Akron is shooting 48.1 percent. Buffalo is 44.1 percent.
Despite a two-game lead over Buffalo, Akron absolutely must win tonight. The Bulls host Bowling Green on Sunday (probable win for UB). Akron travels to Kent State (probable loss for Akron). The Bulls would win the tiebreaker by virtue of their 2-0 season edge over the Zips, and Akron will still not have a regular season conference championship.
In either event, the two teams earning first-round byes are likely in the house tonight. Just my prediction. It's kind of amazing that the top two seeds get a triple-bye.
Treadwell started the second half instead of Marshall. Marshall is sitting on the bench, so it's probably not for an injury.
The refs missed an obvious loose ball foul on Buffalo.
Walsh has not shot a 3 tonight.
The fans are eager for a spurt. This place will explode. So far, Akron's offense has not shown an identity.
Marshall might be having his worst game of the year. He has not been a factor on defense.
14:59 - Akron 40, Buffalo 43
Buffalo is on an 11-2 run since halftime.
The refs are getting the Bronx cheer for finally calling a loose-ball foul on Buffalo. They got another within six seconds for a bump of Abreu. And another within seven seconds of that for a body check on Harney. That's three fouls in 12 seconds. Treadwell scored to finish the foul-filled possession. The fans are now getting excited.
Treadwell really got the fans pumped with a gliding layup in the lane, while being fouled by McCrea, to tie the game.
You probably won't see Treadwell for a little while, because he just committed his fourth foul. McCrea could be following him, as the Bulls' sophomore has three. No other player is in foul trouble.
11:46 - Akron 47, Buffalo 47
The Bulls are making everything. Tony Watson threw up a heat check from five feet behind the 3-point line. Swish. They have opened a seven-point lead.
Treadwell is coming back on the floor at the 9:10 mark, along with three other starters. Walsh immediately fed him in the post, and he scored. This is the first game where I've seen Treadwell as a primary option.
7:56 - Akron 54, Buffalo 57
Akron has competed in the MAC since 1992-93 and has not won a regular season championship -- perhaps until tonight.
McCrea committed his fourth foul. He's heading to the bench at the 6:45 mark.
Walsh crashed the boards among the trees and got a critical put-back. This guy impresses me more and more every game.
Akron has re-committed to getting the ball inside to Marshall. But by his facial expression, the 7-footer just looks out of it.
The crowd is intense. This is a big-game atmosphere -- as it should be. As loud as it is in here, I just can't help thinking Akron's going to go on a huge run and pull away. I'm sure the crowd gives the Zips players the same confidence.
The fans got up on their feet at the 5 minute mark. A beautiful left-handed hook by Watt put everyone back in their seats. Watt has 22 points, on 11-of-15 shooting.
3:49 - Akron 62, Buffalo 65
A Watson 3 extended Buffalo's lead to six.
Akron has gotten nothing from the shooting guard position. Diggs and Gilliam have not scored, on six shots.
Hey, AK-Rowdies. Why is Buffalo's student section louder than you?
The Bulls have made 14-of-21 shots in the second half. Akron is 9-of-23. With that disparity, the Zips are fortunate to be within four with 2:25 left.
2:25 - Akron 64, Buffalo 68
Marshall came up with a big rebound, scrapping with smaller players after a missed Buffalo free throw.
The refs made another awful call -- a charge on Abreu. The defender was right under the hoop when it happened. They are reviewing the play now, perhaps to determine if the defender was in the semi-circle under the basket.
1:40 - Akron 64, Buffalo 68
Buffalo wound up with the ball, so nothing changed. Akron challenged the inbounds play on the baseline and Buffalo called timeout to avoid the five-second call.
Oldham traveled along the sideline, which gave the ball back to Akron.
Abreu hit a deep, deep, deep bomb to bring Akron within one.
The refs made another terrible call. Akron had Watson trapped in the corner, and somehow there was a foul on Abreu. Wild.
0:55 - Akron 67, Buffalo 70
With 12 seconds left on the shot clock, the ball found McClanahan about four feet behind the line. With a hand in his face, falling away, McClanahan threw up an airball, short. If this was Hollywood, that would be a great shot, and it would have been a swish. In real life, it was a crap decision to shoot there.
Watson was fouled upon receiving the ball. He made both.
Cvetinovic, however, did make a clutch 3 on Senior Night. Akron's back within two with 22.8 seconds left.
0:22 - Akron 70, Buffalo 72
The Zips trapped Filzen in the corner, but the ball squirted free to Watt, who advanced it to Watson. Akron allowed 10 seconds to run in total before fouling Watson, who made both.
Akron's final possession ended in a Cvetinovic airball.
Final score - Akron 70, Buffalo 74
So the Zips will need to win the regular season finale at Kent State for the MAC regular season championship. In a way, it would be fitting to beat the team that has most regularly walked away with that honor.
It was an energy-packed game. The Zips just never got their spurt.
Final stats: Watt scored 22. Abreu had 18 points and six assists. Barnett had nine rebounds. Akron shot 44.4 percent. Buffalo was 51.8 percent (63.3 percent in the second half). Marshall scored 10 points, had five turnovers, zero blocks and four rebounds.
That was a no-show by Marshall, Diggs, Gilliam and McClanahan. You can't have poor performances from four rotation guys and win.
You can officially say that Akron is facing some adversity. It would almost be good at this point to play a MAC quarterfinals game just to remember what winning feels like.
Kent State held off Ohio, 68-61. The Bobcats and Flashes are tied with five losses. Buffalo has four. Akron has three. If teams tie for a seed, then the first tiebreaker is head-to-head. The second is outcomes against the top seeded teams in the conference, in order of seeding (i.e., vs. No. 1, vs. No. 2, and so on).
"I'm disappointed we didn't win, but I thought our guys responded well. I thought Buffalo played really well. We caught a tough performance from Mitchell Watt. They had a good gameplan. They packed it in, didn't get it extended. We battled back. We had a slow start to the second half. I thought there were four plays that we just didn't make when it matter, that went against us. We were a little undisciplined on the trap. That charge call could have been a block. The third one, we had a good trap on the sideline and it sputtered out of there. And then McClanahan took a bad shot."
"I told our guys this: If we win it outright or don't win it outright. This might sounds like rationalization. I try to win every damn game. If we go to Kent and win, that's great. If we go into Kent and lose, we still have to win the Tournament. The only thing to gain is the NIT Tournament. It's a great tournament. The NIT teams are good. I'm not poo-pooing the NIT, but once you've been to the NCAA Tournament, that's what you want. We have to make sure we are ready for that conference tournament.
"You're not going to play great every night. I thought we gutted up. I thought Brian Walsh, Alex Abreu, Demetrius Treadwell gutted up. We didn't get any rim protection from Zeke. I think he's a little tired. I think they did a good job getting into his body. That was a key to the game, not getting any blocks."
"My job is to keep my composure so my team gets composed. I get upset with guys when I think mentally they're not in the game, they don't share the ball, or they're not trying hard. We got beat on some good individual plays by Watt."
"Treadwell is a warrior on the glass. He makes mistakes, but we need him on the floor."
"Zeke has trouble when things don't go well for him. I thought he just got driven on, he just wasn't there. I'm not mad. I've seen it 100 times. Athletes go through it. It wasn't like he wasn't trying. He just didn't get it done at the rim."
"My former assistant lost four out of five in the CAA Tournament and still went to the Final Four. My job is to tell our guys that each game is a mutually exclusive event. We didn't go in with much momentum last year either."
"Belief structure is a big thing. What is your belief structure when you get hit? Do you believe you can win? Abreu shows tremendous belief structure. He believes he's good and he's not afraid to make plays."
"The end result is we lost, but we played good enough to win on most nights."
"I knew the last three would be tough. I'm not going to get disappointed. We're going to go into that tournament and do the very best we can. I have faith in my guys. We're going to come roaring back."
"I was more depressed against the OU game than this game. We weren't worth a damn in the OU game."
"They made a lot of tough shots. They played a really good game. I'm not going to lie to you guys."
"We would love to be the No. 1 seed because you get the easiest route, but we might match up better with the 3 or 4 seed."
"I'd really rather lose now and get our problems out now. It's keeping us humble. The guys who aren't making shots are in the gym."
"You know how we feel about that rivalry. It's going to be a tough game. We're going to come with everything we got."
"They made a lot of tough shots. They made a lot of hustle plays. If some of those balls go our way, we get a win."
"The seeding actually doesn't matter. We still have to match up with whoever we play and win."
"I feel like everybody played hard and played their hearts out. We can't look back at these two games. ... We really have to move on."
"It's definitely important that we win that game and go into the tournament with momentum. Gotta get it done, baby."