CLEVELAND -- Coach Keith Dambrot won his second MAC Championship in an overtime thriller over rival Kent State, 66-65.
Kent State had the ball with 12 seconds left in overtime and a chance to win. Zips center Zeke Marshall swatted away the first attempt at a game winner, and senior guard Steve McNees deflected a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Marshall was named MVP. In the championship game, he scored nine points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked nine shots.
Akron took the lead after senior Brett McKnight made two free throws with 12 seconds left. There was a lot of contact on the final sequence, but the referees did not call a foul.
Next week will be the third NCAA Tournament appearance for the Zips in the Division I era. Read below for in-game updates.
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You can get into this game for free with a non-winning Ohio Lottery ticket. So really, if you're an Akron or Kent fan, you're here tonight. So far, it appears that Kent fans are outnumbering Zips fans.
I hope I'm wrong about tonight, but I don't have a good feeling. The Flashes are so confident that I couldn't imagine them allowing themselves to lose. If both teams play well (or poorly), the tie goes to Kent. Vegas agrees with that, considering the small spread (1.5 points).
If the MAC Tournament ended today, who would be on the All-Tournament Team? I'm having a hard time figuring that out. Normally, the MAC Champion will get two or three spots, the runner-up will get one or two, and what's left goes to one of the semifinalists. Justin Greene is probably a shoo-in. Beyond him, I really don't know.
Akron fans have begun to catch up. Maybe it's just that Kent fans are more noticeable with the bright yellow shirts.
The last time Akron and Kent played in the championship, it seemed like there was more hype. They even opened part of the upper bowl for fans. Attendance tonight probably won't fill more than 90 percent of the lower bowl once everyone gets settled in.
Akron starters: Steve McNees, Darryl Roberts, Brett McClanahan, Nik Cvetinovic and Zeke Marshall.
Kent starters: Michael Porrini, Randal Holt, Rodriguez Sherman, Greene and Justin Manns.
It's getting loud. Both fanbases are really into it. This is going to be a game of runs. I know that much.
Marshall lost the tip to Manns. That's unusual. Holt started the game with a 3 and a steal on the other end.
Bo Boroski is officiating tonight. I guess you can take that as the MAC not allowing fans to dictate who calls the games.
After few more buckets, and no answers from the Zips, Kent State has a 10-point lead before the first media timeout. Keith Dambrot went to his offensive infusion, with Brett McKnight, Quincy Diggs and Alex Abreu.
I just noticed that Tom Gaffney, me and the rest of the ABJ writing team is on television everytime they show the announcers during a break. I should have shaved today.
A quick football note: Anthony Schrock is no longer with the team.
The Zips are 0-for-5 on 3-pointers tonight and Kent is 2-for-2. That's the difference so far.
Finally, McNees got one to go.
This would be a lot uglier but for the Zips holding Kent without a bucket for five-straight trips. ... McNees canned another 3.
Geno Ford is urging his team to run the break. They have an athletic group out there.
A three-point play by McNees has brought Akron back to within two. That's a 10-2 run for the Zips. McNees has scored eight of those.
They announced that anyone caught with a noisemaker, such as a horn, would be ejected. I heard one horn behind me a few minutes ago, but nothing since.
McKnight vs. Porrini is a good matchup for Akron, regardless of how skilled Porrini is as an on-ball defender. McKnight just scored on a back-down.
Kent State is going on seven minutes without a hoop.
I heard the horn again. It sounded like it was right behind me. I looked back, and I didn't notice anything fishy.
The 3-pointers are falling now. Akron has made three of its last five.
Dambrot is using a different strategy with Cvetinovic and Marshall tonight. They have played eight minutes apiece, with five minutes left in the half. The strategy is to ensure that there will be no restrictions on their play in the second half.
Abreu made a save in the left corner. The rest of the players sort of paused, because everyone thought the ball was going out. During the paralysis, Abreu cut into the lane and made a floater.
Diggs went coast to coast and finger rolled the Zips into a tie with 3:30 left in the half.
Cvetinovic took away what would have been a miraculous dribble-drive layup by Abreu. He touched the rim as the layup was bouncing on the rim. That's offensive basket interference.
Nate Linhart was the answer to the trivia question: Who was the MAC Tournament MVP in 2009?
They showed the replay from last week's Akron-Kent matchup, when Diggs got tossed at the end. I didn't realize this,but Boroski was the one who called the quick double-technical. Boroski also blew the tech on Diggs last night.
Carlton Guyton and McNees traded deep 3s.
The guy with the horn just blew it during a Greene free throw attempt, which missed.
The Kent students did the early shot-clock countdown, and it worked ... sort of. It caused McNees to quickly fire a 3 from the corner, which went in. Akron now leads by two. And that will be your halftime margin.
Halftime - Akron 33, Kent State 31
This game will be won by whatever team is hot last. That's another guarantee from the Warlock. ... I just wanted to steal Charlie Sheen's nickname to see if it made me feel cooler. (It does.)
Notable halftime stats: McNees has 14 points. Marshall has five rebounds. Porrini has three assists. Akron is shooting 50 percent on 5-of-12 on 3s; Kent is 40.7 percent and 3-of-8 on 3s. The Zips have only made 2-of-5 free throws. Akron is winning on the boards, 18 to 14. Akron has seven turnovers, compared to Kent's four.
I wonder if Joe Lunardi updated his prospective bracket to include Akron, now that the Zips are theoretically more likely to Dance.
Akron made 12 of its last 16 shots in the second half, after starting 1-for-10.
As a loud Kent fan behind me just said: "Get the ball to Greene!" Ford tried twice on the Flashes' first possession of the half, and then again on the second possession.
Dambrot is also working the ball inside. Marshall converted a three-point play against Greene.
Greene airballed a mid-range jumper. Right over the rim.
Sherman threw a beautiful outlet pass over the Zips in transition to Manns, who got the game's first dunk and tied the game.
Marshall got a big block, which started the break. Porrini fouled Diggs hard (but clean). As the players got up, Boroski slid in between them. He senses the two don't like each other, and I think Boroski's right.
You might have seen the girl holding up a sign that reads: "Kent be beat." I think that's a sign that a fan from either team could hold.
The crowd has been really good. And I think my 90 percent capacity guess was undershooting it. There aren't a lot of empty seats.
Akron is exploiting the McKnight-Porrini matchup in a different way. McKnight waited until Kent State doubled down on him, before the kickout to Abreu for a 3.
The players got a long break after a timeout, then a media stoppage. It feels like we haven't played in 10 minutes.
Greene got a violent swat on a Cvetinovic shot. On the other end, he got away with tossing Diggs aside. He converted that rebound into a reverse layup.
Just before that, Roberts played safety and intercepted a pass intended for Porrini. With Porrini on his tail, Roberts missed the finger roll.
Marshall was whistled for his third foul. With 7:47 left, it shouldn't be a huge issue. Cvetinovic has only one. Eric Gaines for Kent is the only Flash with three fouls.
Marshall swatted a Guyton floater, which should have started a fast break. The outlet pass was too long, and went out of bounds on the other baseline.
Porrini just missed two free throws, but made up for it with a volleyball spike on a Diggs shot on the other end. There was some jawing after that play.
A McKnight hook shot extended Akron's lead to four.
Marshall deflected what would have been a certain Greene dunk. Roberts snuck in for a layup on the next play. Akron's up six with 4:59 left. It's Akron's biggest lead of the game.
Holt nailed a 3 behind a Greene screen. Kent's back within one. Akron timeout with 3:46 left.
McKnight hit a critical fall-away jumper. What a difficult shot that was! Holt answered with a 3 that tied the game.
Marshall had the biggest dunk of his life. Roberts penetrated to the paint, and found the cutting 7-footer, who dunked right on top of Holt, while being fouled.
On the missed foul shot by Marshall, Cvetinovic fouled Greene, who will shoot one-and-one. It's not the worst foul ever, because Greene has made only 2-of-4. He missed the front end.
Akron called timeout, with the ball and a two-point lead. There is 2:10 left. This is a gigantic possession for the Zips.
The play was a Roberts dribble-drive around a screen. The layup attempt was long, and Marshall couldn't grab the board.
Guyton shot two on the other end and missed both. They fouled McKnight on the rebound, and the Zips' senior will shoot one-and-one. Biggest free throws of his career? I think so. He airballed the front end.
With Green backing it down, it was McNees who swatted the ball out of bounds. Sherman found a lane and scored.
McNees hoisted an off-balanced 3. Marshall easily grabbed the rebound, and Kent fouled him on his way back to the rim. He will try to break the tie.
He swirled the first around the rim and in. The second bounced off the front iron.
McNees fouled Greene in the post. Greene can tie or take the lead for Kent with 42 seconds left. He made the first and missed the second. Guyton got the offensive rebound. Kent State ball. Tied up with 32 seconds left, but 26 on the shot clock.
Kent State has made two of its last nine free throw attempts.
Gaffney thinks a long 3 will win it for Akron, eventually.
Porrini dribbled it down to 10 seconds, fed it to Guyton, who missed a long 3. Cvetinovic rebounded it, forwarded the pass to McNees, who tried to split a double-team in the backcourt and coughed up the ball. Kent recovered the loose ball and didn't have time to get a good shot off. Overtime.
End of Regulation - Akron 59, Kent 59
All right. Enough of the e-mails and text message. No, I cannot "stay off your TV." And don't act like it's making you mad. You love it.
Akron could have called one of its two timeouts, rather than push the ball, but it's all hindsight. If McNees split that double,he would have gotten a good look at the winner.
Greene picked up his fourth foul, trying to stop an entry pass to Marshall. The Zips center missed the front end of the one-and-one.
Holt drew first blood in overtime. It was a 3 from the wing.
Greene is now fouled out. He tried to stop an alley-oop attempt to Marshall. That's a huge loss. The Zips are now shooting two. Marshall split the pair.
Marshall committed his fourth foul on the next play on Manns, who split the pair. Akron is down three with the ball. Big Zeke now has five blocks, eight points and 11 rebounds.
The ball went to McKnight who hit a soft mid-range jumper.
Thanks to McClanahan defense, Sherman missed two 3 attempts badly. On the other end, McKnight was blocked.
The Zips want to work the ball down to Cvetinovic, who has Porrini on him. Akron called timeout, down one, with 1:17 left.
However this concludes, this tournament has been great for the MAC. Fantastic games. The two local programs in the finals. Overtime for the national TV audience.
Roberts got the ball in the paint and hit a spinning floater. Huge shot. Akron leads by one with 56 seconds left. Kent State timeout. ... I can't believe that was the play call out of the timeout, but it worked.
Guyton drove, was deterred by Marshall, collected his own board. Regrouping, Guyton hit a high-arching jumper over Marshall. Akron timeout, down one, with 34 seconds left. There are 31 seconds on the shot clock. Ford was smart to orchestrate that unfortunate switch of Marshall onto Guyton.
McKnight will have a chance to redeem himself at the line. Porrini fouled him after McKnight caught a nice entry lob from McNees. McKnight swished the first.
No timeouts left. Kent's going to run, one way or another.
McKnight made the second, as well.
Porrini charged down the court. Marshall got a big block. The ball went back out to the perimeter, where McNees blocked a Guyton last-second attempt.
There was a skirmish after the buzzer. There is a rumor that someone from Kent got kicked in the head.
I'm having trouble blogging with all of this confetti on my computer. But WOW, what a finish! And what a game!
FINAL SCORE - Akron 66, Kent 65
Apparently, Porrini was the guy to get stepped on/kicked. He went down to his back in anguish after the buzzer, and unfortunately was laying where the Zips would eventually be celebrating. Combine that with the Kent coaches lobbying for a foul, and I think that was the big skirmish. There could be more to it, but that's all I know right now.
The refs easily could have called a foul there. Easily. But it wasn't a huge surprise that the refs' whistles stayed silent. It was a free-for-all and the basketball was loose for most of the last five seconds.
Notable final stats: McKnight had 15 points; Holt scored 14. Marshall grabbed 13 rebounds; Porrini had nine. Sherman had a game-high four assists. Akron shot 41 percent; Kent was 33.3 percent. The Flashes were only 12-of-23 from the free-throw line (Akron was 8-for-17). Marshall was one point and one block away from a triple-double.
All-Tournament Team: Jarrod Jones, Greene, Porrini, McKnight and Marshall. Marshall is your MVP. Well-deserved. He was truly a game changer this week.
I voted for everyone on the All-Tournament Team, except I gave a vote to McNees instead of McKnight. But after McKnight's critical free throws, I would have probably changed my vote.
On a personal note, weeks like this are why I still do this blogging. Two of the MAC Tournament games that Akron participated in were absolute thrillers. The WMU game was intense, as well.
"We were just trying to get a shot up (on the last play). Unfortunately, we weren't able to. They kept us from penetrating. I think we all thought somebody would get a shot off. That's all you want. You don't want to go out, wondering what if ? What if we got a shot off? Could we have rebounded it? If it ever happens again, we'll try to execute it a little better."
"At the time, we were trying to get a handoff so that we could come off of a screen. Hopefully they would mess up on a switch. We came down the court and it was a little bit discombobulated in there."
"We all grow up, wanting to play in the tournament. We had a great year. I love these guys to death. I love the coaches to death. I love Kent. I know that Coach Ford and the coaching staff will be back. We still have an NIT to go to. So we'll try to win that. We're all back next year. It's time to step it up to another level starting tomorrow."
On the skirmish at the end: "No comment."
"They played well, man. They made the plays down the stretch. I take full responsibility for this loss. I didn't do what I was supposed to do in the championship game. All credit to Akron. They made big plays down the stretch."
"I think I let the refs dictate who I play. That's not normally how I do. You want it so bad. It happens man. I'm proud of my guys. We played hard and had a great season. Credit Akron, man. They played well."
On Sherman: "That's what's really hurting me the most. The fact that we lost it to Rod. He's a great person off the court. On the court, he led us all year. That was our main goal -- to get to the tournament for Rod. Like Mike said, we still have some more basketball to play."
"Tough game. We fought. We just couldn't get anything going offensively. We had 13 field goal attempts in overtime; they had four. We got it where we needed to get it, we just couldn't get it in the basket enough."
On Marshall: "He did a great job. Unfortunately, when he was out, we still had just as hard of a time with Bardo in there. We just labored offensively the entire game. We got the ball where we wanted to get it. We could not finish. We didn't finish the entire night."
"Once you get one block, you go in there more tentatively. It was a bad night to shoot 50 percent from the foul line. I know they didn't shoot great from the foul line either, but that's a big part of what we do."
"It's tough because, we had such a great year. And I don't want our kids to lose sight of it. To be so young and have so many new guys. We played really well all year. We came up one possession short. They had a lot to do with it. They played really well in a lot of areas. It's tough when you don't play your best game when you'd like to play your best game. We had some uncontested layups that we just flat could not finish."
"We made some big plays. The game was close to being over at the 5 minute mark. Randal banged back-to-back 3s to give us a chance. We had four chances to score (and win) and went 0-for-4."
"The game turned in that first half. We lost our lead because we didn't get to McNees a couple times. They played and looked a lot more comfortable offensively than we did. They've got a whole roster who had played in four-straight championship games. They didn't crack. Had they put us down like that early in the game, I would like to say we would have responded, but they showed a lot of poise."
"McKnight shot an airball and then made two free throws to win the game. Give them a lot of credit because they had a lot of guys make a lot of plays."
"I love Rod to death. Rod is one of the all-time great kids. He'll take more pain than most kids. He's had four surgeries. He doesn't practice the day after games. To have to play three-straight games, it's tough. Hopefully, we can make a nice run in the NIT. When we get to the spring, he can see that he won three championships in four years. We've all had a game when we didn't play as well as we wanted. I'm glad we're still playing and he's not done with us."
"First, I would like to say, I've been where Geno's been. It's hard being that No. 1 seed and not winning. They had a better year than we did. We were fortunate and the ball bounced our way. I thought if we could keep the big fella in the game, we would have a chance. I don't think there's any doubt, he changed the entire game."
"It's kind of cliche-like, but this team went through more struggles than we've ever had. This team, we had some moments that we were just awful. I told Terry Weigand, 'Terry, we're just not very good.' He said, 'We just have to keep coaching.' That really saved our season. When he says something like that to me, it really hits home."
On Marshall: "I told him before that game that we need eight blocks. He's been a great shot blocker on his own man, but not very good on coming to drives. I felt that the way we had a chance to win is if he affects the game defensively. The last time we played them, they got to the rim at will. They got to the rim tonight, but he was standing there. That really helped us, big time. We knew that if we could keep him on the floor, we would have a chance. Kent's team is built on driving, driving, driving and Justin Greene scoring in the low block. Tonight, he didn't foul. That was the key to the game. He affected about 400 shots. Tonight, he had better defensive discipline than in the past. He had very few ticky-tack dumb fouls. I think his discipline and his focus was really good tonight. Going into the NCAA Tournament, that changes our team. If he can do those things, that takes us from a mid-major to a little bit better because they can't score in the basket area."
"They built their team around (Greene). He makes shots that are tough. First off, they're a little thin inside anyway. When he's not out there, they become even thinner. Now they're relying only on their perimeter guys, who are very good."
"I was just trying to stay as relaxed as I could. We had some guys out of the game in the overtime against Miami. We were very fortunate to win. The ball bounced our way."
"It's my job to make our guys believe we can win in a four-game set. Is it an advantage to win on Tuesday? I made it an advantage. We're pretty fresh for the most part. I was a little worried about McNees. McNees' game tonight was just like when Miami had us down a couple years ago and McNees went nutty."
On the beginning of the game: "We were a little disjointed. We shot a lot of jump shots, which was dumb. We had some open ones, but we needed to throw it inside. Kent hit a couple 3s early on us. Sometimes that can help you, or it can hurt you. That's not really their thing. Sometimes when you make those 3s and it becomes easy, it relaxes you."
"I guess I'm a magnet for (crazy finishes). We had the clock malfunction and the overtimes. My dad was perfectly healthy and damn near died. I'm just thankful. I'm thinking we're going to do the best we can tonight. It's one of those years where we were tested. My dad is always trying to tell me who's good. He told me, 'That Quincy Diggs, he's good.'I said, 'OK, you try to coach him.'"
"It's McNees' team. It's been that way for a couple years. He's been our leader. He's a self-made player who wasn't very good when he got here."
"We knew that to win this game, we'd need to be tougher. Some nights, we get destroyed on the boards. We knew against Western and Kent, we'd have to be tough to win. This team isn't particularly tough, but we're skilled."
On the airball: "On to the next one. All the good shooters go to the next one."
"We were just fortunate that they didn't get a shot off."
"I think, number one would be competitiveness. The veterans know what it takes. Competitiveness and toughness to win games. That gives us the little edge to win games like this."
"When we find out who we play, that's when I'll start thinking about it. We're still hungry and we still want to win."
On McNees: "He came out, ready to play. We have a little brotherhood between us because we know what we need to do to win games."
"The second ring means a lot. My sophomore year we won it. It's an amazing feeling. It's big for coach. It's really big for us."
"Me and Greene had a mutual competition. I don't think it was anything personal."
"I think that last play was just a test for toughness. Can you make the big play or can you play your roles or do what you need to do to win? They drove. That ball went up. I made sure I had it. And throw it into the ground hard enough to burn a couple of seconds and Steve got his block."
"I wanted this championship so bad. I believe that if I do what I need to do, we are going to win this game. That's what makes me play so well when the game matters."
"Beginning of the game, they were driving and trying to kick and get it up quick. The previous game at Kent, I wasn't coming (out) all the way, because I was afraid they were going to kick it."
"During the season, when we were a 50-50 team, it hits you. The team needed to step up. I worked hard and stayed after, trying to perfect my game or work on my game -- so when situations come, I'm ready."