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It looks like there will be a decent crowd tonight. There are two factors that will probably cancel each other out. First, a lot more people are going to show up to support the Akron soccer national championship. Second, a lot fewer people will attend because of the snowstorm that beat Northeast Ohio for the last 24 hours.
In Ohio's 2007 trip to Akron, there was also a big blizzard. That was a game that Akron fans expected to really give it to Bubba Walther.
Akron's starters: Zeke Marshall, Steve McNees, Brett McClanahan, Alex Abreu and Nik Cvetinovic.
Ohio's starters: DeVaughn Washington, D.J. Cooper, T.J. Hall, Nick Kellogg and Ivo Baltic.
Six-foot-8 Washington beat out Marshall on the tipoff.
Ohio opened the game playing a zone. After a foul by Hall, coach John Groce switched to man-to-man.
The alumni had to wait a few minutes before sitting down, which they are permitted to do only after Akron scores. Abreu made two free throws. I think they should wait for a field goal, but maybe they didn't breed tough alumni back then like they do today.
After five minutes of the game, Akron has more turnovers (three) than points (two) and is 0-for-5 from the field.
Abreu and Cooper are doing a little friendly jawing. Tonight could be the start of a long rivalry.
Abreu drew some "oohs" and "ahhs" with a faked pass to Darryl Roberts in the corner while he streaked around Cooper. The layup gave Akron its first field goal at the 14:04 mark.
The refs called a double-technical foul on Brett McKnight and Reggie Keely, who did not appear to be going at it as hard as Abreu and Cooper are.
The drama continues. Cooper fouled Abreu hard on a fast break. Cooper landed on top of Abreu and gave Abreu a not-so-accidental elbow jab as he rose to his feet. Abreu made another couple free throws. He has all six of the Zips' points so far.
The fans have become really upset with the referees after a loose ball foul on Cvetinovic. Keith Dambrot stared down the ref who blew the whistle, and informed him that he "biffed it up." Only he didn't say "biffed."
McNees is 0-for-3 tonight. He is shooting 27.4 percent this year from the field and 27.8 on 3-pointers. You have to assume that will improve.
I hope Akron settles down and begins to work the ball down to Marshall.
During warmups, the Zips wore "national championship" T-shirts. The soccer team is sitting in the baseline bleachers.
Ohio's offense has been much more fluid tonight. Cooper has five assists already. Abreu has five turnovers. The Zips are keeping it close through their 12-6 rebounding surplus.
Ohio went on a 7-0 run, which prompted Dambrot to call timeout. Ohio went to a 2-3 zone that forced Abreu into some bad passes.
The Zips are looking like they've never seen a zone before. The ball gets passed around, then back around, then a half-hearted entry pass, and then back out again. Finally, Akron made it a point to work it in to Mike Bardo, who spun home a layup over Keely.
This half got worse and worse, but at least it's over. Bardo airballed a shot from four feet. Keely made an uncontested layup as the half expired.
The good news about this half being over is that it's time to celebrate the national champions. There was a nice video. Then the team came out, with Anthony Ampaipitakwong holding the trophy. The team passed it down the line. Caleb Porter took the mic and thanked everyone (see pic below).
The celebration is Tuesday at 5:30 at Rhodes Arena. The first 4,000 fans will get a poster, so clearly the university expects a large crowd.
Halftime stats of note: Akron 21, Ohio 37. The Zips are shooting 28.6 percent, compared to Ohio at 51.9 percent. The Zips hold a 17-12 rebounding edge. Akron has 10 turnovers and four assists; Ohio has five turnovers and 12 assists (Cooper has 10 alone). Tommy Freeman leads the Bobcats with nine points, all on 3-pointers. The Bobcats have made 6-of-11 3-point attempts; Akron is 1-for-6. Marshall has two points and no rebounds.
The Zips ran an effective possession to beat the Bobcats' zone. Abreu caught a pass from another guard on the perimeter and immediately dashed toward the rim, splitting the double-team. Cvetinovic cut to the basket from the baseline and caught an Abreu pass for a dunk. The Zips have closed the lead to 11.
Akron has drawn four fouls in the first three minutes.
McNees stole the ball from Freeman on the break, which Abreu converted on the other end, closing the Bobcats lead to eight.
Ohio has drained three consecutive 3-pointers and is currently 9-of-16 from behind the arc. The Bobcats have had clean looks at these shots, though.
The university has hoisted a banner celebrating last season's CBI Tournament berth. You'll see the banner if you scroll up to the picture I just posted.
McNees missed everything but the backboard on a 3 attempt.
The Zips have done some things better this half, but Ohio keeps pouring in the 3s. And the Zips have spoiled chances to close the gap with blown layups or fumbled passes.
The referees are looking at video to determine whether Marshall threw an improper elbow. One ref called a foul on the player who Marshall struck with the elbow, or so it seemed. Marshall simply pivoted with the ball tucked under his chin. This is a big waste of time.
Unbelievable. They called an intentional foul on Marshall. That's the worst call I've seen in a long time.
Marshall earned a foul on the other end by ambushing Washington. The Zips' center is off the floor with four fouls.
Kellogg splashed a 3 to extend Ohio's lead to 22 points. No matter how bad it gets tonight, Akron can always take solace that it wasn't as bad as what happened to the Cavs last night in Los Angeles.
You might hear from the media that Akron suffered a hangover after the Kent win. People throw out these kind of statements as if Dambrot literally slammed a case of Christmas Ale and had to get up for work the next morning. There is no hangover. And no, Akron didn't "sleep" on the Bobcats, who are the defending MAC Champions. Sometimes, you play like crap and the opponents have a great night.
With that said, these games swing very quickly. I always apply the following formula to determine if it's really over: If Deficit > (minutes left x 2) + 6, Then it's over. Right now, there are four minutes left and Akron's down 14, so it's close to being over.
Quincy Diggs took his first shot after playing for 15 minutes. He needs to be more assertive.
Elton Alexander just left the media table. He quipped: "I'm going to be like the fans and leave early."
This was not a well-officiated game. But let's be serious, we could have had Tim Donaghy out there, and it wouldn't have changed much. The Bobcats have shot very well. Akron has been cold.
Because this game is over, I have to share how bad the roads were on the way to Cleveland. I question whether they saw a snowplow at all by the time I got there. It felt like my car was trying to iceskate without skates. I had to turn around because I literally thought I could go off the road at any moment. It was the first time I sympathized with LeBron James' decision to spend the winters in South Beach.
McNees hit a 3 to bring the lead down to eight, with 1:40 left. Cooper split the pair on the subsequent foul. Do the Zips have a chance? Barely, but they have to score on every possession and force a couple turnovers.
Roberts missed two attempts on 3-pointers on the other end. Cooper collected the rebound (his seventh) and then split the pair.
A fan shouted to Cooper: "You have to make your foul shots if you're going to talk smack like that." Cooper looked up, and stayed silent. Cooper's line tonight: 13 points, 15 assists, eight rebounds. I wouldn't talk back either.
McNees made a meaningless layup as the buzzer sounded.
There was a minor skirmish after the post-game handshakes. This game was very chippy. The teams made it clear they don't like each other.
"That's all here from Rhodes Arena! Akron had an after-Kent hangover and then slept on the Bobcats. No two ways about it!"
Word is, CBS analyst Clark Kellogg was in attendance tonight to watch his son score a game high.
Final score - Akron 70, Ohio 79
Ohio is now 8-8. I wouldn't put any stock into that mediocre record. Groce has already shown that he's capable of getting his team hotter than lava when it matters.
Final stats of note: Cooper ran the point as well as any guard I've seen in the conference. Kellogg finished with 23 points, often the beneficiary of Cooper passes. McNees broke out of his funk in the second half, finishing with 15 points. Cvetinovic grabbed nine rebounds. Akron finished shooting 37.1 percent, compared to Ohio's 52.9 percent and 52 percent on 3-pointers. Akron cleaned up its assist-turnover ratio with 15-13; Ohio was 21-15.
KEITH DAMBROT QUOTES
"I'm gonna try to sound positive, but that was bad effort, not very smart, undisciplined, emotion-less early. I can't even judge the second half because we had to scramble back. We just weren't really ready to play. We came out there with no juice."
"They're playing 2-3 zone, and that's all we practiced for two days. We knew it was coming. They did it in the MAC Tournament; they did it against Miami. The second half we were fine."
"We were inconsistent. That's been typical of these guys. One night Zeke's great. The next night it looks like he's never played. And it's not just him."
"Alex got caught up playing Cooper. His dad's at the game. He was trying to do too much.
"They made open shots and we didn't make any."
"We got the same damn problems in practice as we got in the game. Alex doesn't guard in practice. How's he going to guard in the game?"
"Against the 2-3 in the second half, we're driving it up the gut and getting layups. In the first half, we were throwing it to them."
"Am I frustrated? I'm about to choke somebody to be honest."
"Cooper's good at finding the hot hand. He can't score points and have assists. Tonight, he had a lot of assists. We were doing things like rotating to their four-man (rather than their shooters)."
"They made a concerted effort to go after Zeke. And he did a bad job of stepping up to that challenge."
"If they would have talked like that to Dru Joyce or Wood or one of those guys, it would have been interesting. I don't blame them. If we're going to take it, we're going to take it. Cooper's a tough little guy. He just punked us. He talked and backed it up. That's all. Gotta respect that. I don't like it, but I gotta respect it. You gotta make a scene early. What's interesting is that we got the intentional foul called on us."
On the skirmish after the handshakes: "Our guys finally had enough of it, but they waited a little long."
On the elbow: "I thought he got fouled first."
"We're in a tough position now. We have to go on the road and play in two tough places. We've been better on the road than at home the past three years, so we'll see."
STEVE McNEES QUOTES
"It's a disappointing loss. We obviously didn't come ready."
On the 3-point barrage: "We knew they had some capable shooters but they were hitting a little better than usual."
On the zone: "We had trouble in the first half. In the second half, we were fine. We attacked better. In the first half, we were stagnant, a little passive. It's tough to beat a zone playing that way."
On the angst between the teams: "There's a lot of talking out there. Anytime you play against a team that talks on the court, you're going to have some issues. And it goes both ways. The two times we played them before (the MAC Championship) were chippy."
"I think they hit a few shots early, and we didn't quite attack. We warmed up and prepared to be ready, but sometimes you're not as ready as you think you are."
"You've got to get into the gaps. We were stagnant up front with the guards. Anytime you play a zone, you want to get the ball into the middle of the floor. We weren't getting as many good shots as we could have."
On Buffalo: "They play hard and they run their stuff very well, as good as anyone else in the league. We have some new guys, so we'll work hard to prepare."