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As you can see in the picture below, all's quiet in the arena 90 minutes before gametime. Players are starting to trickle out of the locker rooms.
Ohio has five MAC Championships, tied for Kent State for the most all-time. Tonight would put the Bobcats in the lead.
Ohio leads the all-time series against Akron, 34-31, including a 2-0 record over the Zips in the MAC Tournament.
I have two keys to the game, and they are somewhat related: 1) Ball protection. Ohio is superb at turning opponents over. According to one statistic, they're best in the nation. 2) Spurts. The team with the latest spurt is most likely to win. The two keys are related because turnovers cause spurts.
The OU media guide says the following: "When referring to the Bobcats, please use Ohio. Ohio University is acceptable when using other institutions' full names. Please do not use Ohio U or OU. Thank you." ... My response: "I appreciate Ohio U telling me how to refer to OU. Without this guidance, I would never know how to refer to the OU basketball team. Thank you." I understand not wanting to be called "Akron U" when you're the "University of Akron" because it's backwards. OU's whining, on the other hand, is just pompous posturing to take a jab at Ohio State.
Ohio's starters: Walter Offutt, D.J. Cooper, Nick Kellogg, John Smith and Ivo Baltic.
Akron's starters: Brian Walsh, Alex Abreu, Nik Cvetinovic, Chauncey Gilliam and Zeke Marshall.
I don't know when Abreu's birthday is, but perhaps this link would be a nice gift.
It's a real treat to have this tournament at a world-class facility like Quicken Loans Arena. I hope MAC fans appreciate that. Being in this building gives the conference credibility. Meanwhile, other mid-major conference are playing on campuses. The MAC is just missing the RPI prominence.
In my prior post, I said that Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney would be important players for Akron. The reason is, I watched the second half of OU's game last night. Those guys are great at defending on the perimeter but cave like a paper bag in the paint. Mitchell Watt went for a smooth 32 last night, a career high.
Another thing I learned last night: OU's fans are RABID. Oh. My. Gosh. There is no word, insult, or volume level that is off limits for some Ohio fans. I don't care if Akron has their fans outnumbered. Three hundred Bobcats fans will sound like 3,000 fans of any other school. It should be no surprise that the Bobcats are 16-1 at home this year, and 8-6 on the road. When the teams both came out for warmups, Akron got a much louder applause.
Bill Livingston and Elton Alexander (both of the PD) pointed out that we have some nonconforming chest painters. Five students have the letters "OHIOU" painted across their bodies. Another has the "OU" logo. Someone tell them to put some clothes on!
Attendance looks so-so with 15 minutes until tip. If you are a basketball fan who lives in Northeast Ohio, you have no excuse for not being here. I don't care who you root for. This is good March Madness basketball.
Sources are telling me that Akron is much looser for this game than last year's championship. You can see it on their faces, too. They're here to win, but also to enjoy the journey.
They killed the lights for player introductions. Fans liked that. Akron got a much larger applause. Marshall got the loudest pop of any player.
By tipoff, the crowd had filled in.
ESPN2 is broadcasting the game. Sitting behind the broadcasters, we are in the line of fire. The smile I gave the camera was for my mom. Hi mom!
Pregame - Akron 0, Ohio 0
I like Ohio's jerseys. The numbers have a neat camouflage tone.
Perhaps Keith Dambrot shares my plan of working it into the post. The first possession went inside to Cvetinovic, who tried to bull inside on Baltic.
The Bobcats barely waited before getting their first steal. Offutt took it to the other end for a layup.
The refs went to video replay to determine whether Marshall threw an elbow at Smith. It was more of a "don't touch me" gesture than anything else. Marshall is still fortunate that Bo Boroski didn't quick-trigger him on a tech. (Yes, that Bo Boroski.)
Akron is getting what it wants inside. Ohio is taking tough shots and making them. Cooper already has two 3s. Man, he has a sweet stroke.
14:40 - Akron 8, Ohio 12
Ohio is crashing the boards from the weak side. Akron needs to stop falling asleep over there.
Akron got back-to-back 3s from Walsh and Abreu to tie it up. Akron has begun moving the ball on offense, and it's opening up the perimeter for clean shots.
11:40 - Akron 14, Ohio 14
Dambrot is irate at what is a historically awful offensive foul called on Diggs. He got hacked on a wrap-around steal attempt. Somehow ... somehow ... it was a foul on Diggs. Yikes.
Ohio is doubling down in the post, which will add to Akron's opportunities on 3-pointers. Both Treadwell and Marshall have gotten the double-team treatment on post attempts.
Cooper got a quick rest. I'm surprised to see that so early in the game. Ohio is playing its third game in three nights, but I don't put much emphasis on that. I've seen these guys play for hours in the Rec Center. There might be mental fatigue, but not physical.
Diggs pulled up for 3 and gave Akron a brief lead.
Diggs "caught a bird" as Austin Carr would say (pump fake, leads to leaping defender and subsequent shooting foul). He'll shoot three after the media timeout.
7:43 - Akron 19, Ohio 19
Akron had a load of close misses on a possession, including a blown Harney dunk. On the next time down, a Marshall hook went 2/3rds of the way in, and spun out. Those possessions hurt.
Marshall gave Cooper a nice swat.
Akron is switching on ball screens to keep Cooper from drilling a 3. Unfortunately, it has left Marshall guarding Cooper up high and Diggs or Harney guarding Keely down low.
3:05 - Akron 24, Ohio 26
Treadwell went up for a big-man rebound, then slashed to the rim on the other end for a layup.
Smith is a nice shot blocker from the weak side. He has great shot-blocking instincts.
Akron is not shooting particularly well, but the Zips are making their 3s (4-of-5).
Dambrot is trying to call his players together for a brief chat before the game resumes. Cvetinovic and Boroski are engaged in a conversation. I don't even want to know what those two could be talking about.
Diggs might be the best Zip to guard Cooper. He has the lateral quickness and length to both bother Cooper and stay in front of him.
Ohio did not get off a shot in the last possession of the half. The Zips will carry a one-point lead to halftime.
Halftime - Akron 29, Ohio 28
Here is one statistic that will make Dambrot giddy: Marshall has no fouls.
Other notable stats: Ohio is shooting 48 percent. Akron is 42.3 percent. Cooper has 12 points. No Zip has more than six. Abreu has four assists. Smith has three blocks. No player has more than three rebounds. Akron has nine offensive rebounds to Ohio's five. Cvetinovic and Marshall are a combined 4-of-13.
Walsh opened the half with a 3.
On Ohio's first possession, Gilliam played great defense on Cooper, but grazed his hand on Cooper's 3 attempt. Cooper made all three free throws. Gilliam responded in a normal way: a 3 on the Zips' next trip. Kellogg then hit a 3.
Offutt is the only player in any foul trouble. He has two. Akron only committed two fouls in the first half.
Diggs went down, grabbing his face. On replay, it looked like T.J. Hall smacked him in the side of the face, catching his eye. It looked mostly accidental. We will play on. Diggs stayed in the game.
Akron has started off slowly in the second half. It takes a commitment to ball movement for the Zips' offense to really surge.
15:26 - Akron 35, Ohio 37
Baltic has a bloody nose. The trainer shoved something up one nostril to stop the flow.
Hall got four points on one possession. He missed the second foul shot and hit a 3. Ohio has a six-point lead.
Treadwell made a big block on Hall's dunk attempt. He has to be more aware of who he's challenging at the rim. Treadwell goes hard after blocks.
John Groce called timeout at the 12:54 mark and simultaneously sat down Cooper. Cooper will likely return after the next media timeout and play the rest of the game.
11:58 - Akron 38, Ohio 43
Abreu got some "oohs" and "ahhs" for a reverse layup under Keely.
Offutt got called for his fourth foul. He has only played 14 minutes tonight.
Ohio air-balled a 3 and it deflected off Marshall's hands out of bounds. It's hard to grab a rebound when your hands are down by your knees when the ball approaches the rim.
Ohio's band is chanting "tall and worthless" at Marshall. Textbook OU. Err Ohio U. Err Ohio University - Athens branch.
We should give Boroski some tennis shoes. He clearly wants to be a part of this game. He's making calls from out of position.
Akron pulled back within two on a nice transition pass from Diggs to Abreu.
Diggs nearly tore the roof off the building. After an Abreu 3, he tipped away the inbounds pass, then dove into the crowd to save it. Gilliam almost grabbed the ball, but Ohio eventually recovered.
7:36 - Akron 50, Ohio 51
This will be an exciting final eight minutes. #cantwait
Cooper hit a fall-away 3 in the corner with the clock winding down.
Now it's Akron that looks tired. The Zips called timeout.
Incredibly, Akron is shooting 72.7 percent on 3s and 42.5 percent total.
This is the Abreu and Cooper duel. Both have 15 points. They are the ones hitting the big buckets.
They passed out the All-Tournament Team ballots. I have Cooper, Watt and Abreu. After that, I can't think of a worthy candidate.
Here's your shot of the game: Cooper heaved an off-balance, desperation 3 as the buzzer sounded and with Cvetinovic in his face. Of course, it went in. Ohio now leads by seven. That was a big shot. The Bobcats are on an 8-2 run.
3:59 - Akron 52, Ohio 59
Akron is shooting one-and-one.
Ohio drew the shot clock down low, Cooper drove and dished for a Baltic 3. The Ohio lead is now eight. Akron has time; it just needs stops.
Cooper made a strategic mistake after Keely collected an offensive rebound. Rather than kicking it out and running more clock, he drove recklessly into the lane and threw up junk. It started a fast-break that led to a Diggs 3.
My ballot only has three names on it. Alexander put Justin Greene and Diggs on his. Livingston added Randal Holt.
Ohio's next possession was also poor: a Baltic fall-away long jumper. Marshall got a layup on the other end. It's a one-point game.
Boroski called a ticky-tack foul on Diggs near the MAC logo at halfcourt. Lousy call. Cooper missed the front end.
1:19 - Akron 61, Ohio 62
Abreu charged into Offutt. OU ball. The Bobcats called timeout.
0:54 - Akron 61, Ohio 62
Cvetinovic has grabbed two big rebounds in the past couple minutes. Dambrot has all of his starters on the floor.
Baltic pranced into the lane and dished to a cutting Offutt, but Abreu was waiting for him and took the ball away. Akron ball. Zips timeout.
0:32 - Akron 61, Ohio 62
Dambrot still has the starters out there for offense, with Diggs instead of Gilliam. I'm guessing Abreu controls this possession.
Walsh took the potential game-winner from 15 feet, and it kicked out. Keely caught the rebound. He'll shoot one and one. He made the first. Akron timeout.
0:06 - Akron 61, Ohio 63
Keely rattled home the second. Dambrot called his final timeout.
They're going to want Diggs or Abreu charging down the floor.
0:06 - Akron 61, Ohio 64
Cvetinovic inbounded to Marshall, who kicked to Abreu. Cooper fouled him. Abreu will shoot one-and-one.
Smoothest stroke ever, Abreu swished the first. Treadwell came in for Cvetinovic.
Abreu threw a high bouncer. They are saying Marshall touched it before it fell in. No way! The refs are reviewing. I didn't see a tip, but the refs are taking an awful lot of time.
0:02 - Akron 6?, Ohio 64
They're ruling it a made free throw, which is bad news for Akron. There are now 3.1 seconds left.
0:03 - Akron 63, Ohio 64
Abreu fouled Cooper on the inbounds play. Ohio is now in the double-bonus. He missed the first. Ohio has pulled all its players off the line. McClanahan is now on the floor.
Cooper missed the second. Diggs took two dribbles and chest-passed it from 3/4ths court, missing everything.
Ohio is the MAC Champion.
Final - Akron 63, Ohio 64
That was a great game. The teams are very even, talent-wise. Both Akron and Ohio will return next year with almost all of its talent intact.
The Zips will move on to the NIT. Ohio definitely has a chance to win a first-round game in the Big Dance.
All-Tournament Team: Greene (KSU), Watt (UB), Abreu (UA), Cooper (OU) and Kellogg (OU). The Tournament MVP is Cooper.
Notable final stats: Akron shot 45.5 percent. Ohio was 44.2 percent. Akron shot 75 percent on 3s (9-for-12). Cooper scored 23, had six assists and four steals. Abreu had 19 and seven. Keely had seven rebounds. The Bobcats had 10 second-half offensive rebounds, to Akron's three. They attempted eight more field goals than the Zips.
Individually, Cvetinovic and Marshall were 5-for-15. Abreu was 5-for-5 and 6-for-7 on free throws.
Attendance was 10,301 -- the sixth-highest in the conference's history.
When OU started getting hot during the cross-over games, most people who know the conference said a collective, "Uh oh." The Bobcats are a fantastic big-game team. When they're playing well, they can steamroll any MAC team. Akron played fairly well and still lost. Heck, the Zips made 75 percent of their 3s. If they make only half, it's a 10-point spread.
I'm hearing that the tip-in should not have been reviewable, and the play should have stayed as called: a field goal for Marshall. As a lawyer, I appreciate the value of standards for judging when to go to replay. In this case, I don't mind that those standards might have been violated to waive off the tip-in. I wouldn't want to see my team win or lose on a fabricated field goal. Period.
"That was a really good game. I thought both teams played pretty well. The ball just bounced their way when it mattered. We missed our one shot to win the game. That's the way it goes sometimes."
"We were a little careless with the ball, but other than that, we played much better than when we took our butt-whopping at OU."
"If it's an unreviewable play and they reviewed it, they messed up. But I didn't think the ball was tipped, so I don't want to complain about it. As long as it's right, who cares if it's reviewable or not."
"They doubled the ball screen and they doubled the low post. The ball just didn't bounce for us. I'm not disappointed. We've been fortunate to win some of these games too. Our kids played hard and they played together. Everytime they got hit in the mouth, they came roaring back. It's a tribute to our guys in the locker room."
"We certainly played a good enough game to win. They made some good shots, and they were outside jump shots."
On Cooper: "We switched more ball screens than we ever have against them because we don't see them throw it in on their middle-size guys. If you hold Kellogg and Walter Offutt, you generally have a good chance to win. These (low-scoring) games are the kind we normally win. I knew it was going to be a close game."
"They had us down 30 points. They just smashed us. It talks to the ability to pick yourself up off the canvas. They're going to give somebody some problems (in the NCAA Tournament) if they shoot the ball. I think by far it's the best team they've had. They care about every possession. I'm just glad he's young and he'll get another job. And I'm old and I'm not."
On Walsh's shot: "When you get a 10-foot jumper from a good shooter that looks like it's going in, that's what you want."
On Abreu: "He's going to be the next great player we have. He understands what he can be. He puts basketball first. He's the next great player for us. He's such a great kid. It's hard to understand the camaraderie we have. I love that kid. I'm just glad we have him and don't have to play against him. I think he's a big-league at some level. He's only 5-foot-8 but he has a 6-3 wingspan. He's a lot like Cooper. I don't think Alex is quite what Cooper is yet, but they both have tremendous instincts on how to play the game. That's what separates good players from great players."
On what he said to seniors: "I thanked them. Our program is built on four-year guys. Brett had a tough year, but he'll get over it somehow. Nikola didn't have to come back. They've (Ohio) got everybody back. We've got everybody back but two. There will be some battles."
On the free throw: "I tried to throw it off the back rim. I don't know why the hell it rolled in. Just like Coach said, it wasn't our day. In the beginning, I thought it was really close (that it was tapped in). I was just praying to God it did. If they reviewed it and it wasn't good, it wasn't good."
"I was ready since I woke up to come in here and let it go. These are the kinds of games I love. I love the pressure."
On his career: "It was a great ride. It sucks to end up this way. There are so many of my friends in this league who never went to the NCAA Tournament once. I was blessed to go twice. I'm still going to the NIT Tournament. The planet ain't going to stop because of this."
On the season: "It's a tremendous leap forward for the young guys. They're going to keep on the legacy of Akron basketball, which is winning. It had to come to the end. It's tough, but overall, like I said, we have something to be proud of. I did it all here. ... When you look at it overall, you have to hang your head high."
"Wow. What a game. First, let me congratulate Akron on a heckuva season. Our guys have a lot of respect for them, that's why they look forward to playing them."
"We were fortunate to come out on the winning end. Certainly, it could have gone either way."
"I really believe we are playing our best basketball here in February and March."
"Both teams were attacking the glass hard. They got off to a great start on the glass. They had nine out of 16 back in the first half. I thought we needed to take care of the ball and/or do a good job on the offensive glass. His teams are always good at going at the glass. They're known for it."
On Marshall: "The first game we played him, he was absolutely terrific. We changed a little bit. We trapped him a lot. He's a great player, obviously, because he's so big. He's had a great year, good player. We tried to be as physical as we could with him. When you're that big and he gets deep, it's like Nerf hoops. He'll make about all of them."
On Cooper: "Over the course of a three-game stretch, it's the best he's played. There's something about a player who can play his best when his best is needed. He takes us to another level, especially on the offensive end. He loves the big stage. You don't get a chance to coach players like him too often. He's a great player that's a risk-taker. Sometimes you gotta let your best players go. There's a balance there. We're going to go as he goes. It's really important that he's aggressive."
On Offutt: "He really is the centerpiece on our defense. He will do whatever it takes to win. He has been a blessing to our program. We would not be where we're at without him. He's so well-respected with the guys. He's as good a leader we've had since I've been the head coach at Ohio."
On becoming a multiple-bid league: "We're working on it. I commend Commissioner Steinbrecher because he's aggressive. He's trying to make our league better. I don't think we're standing still by any means."
On the NCAA: "I'm sure our older guys will recollect their experience from two years ago. (Cooper) always plays big on the big stage. Guys get a little swagger from him. Offutt gives us our toughness on defense. Akron has a tremendous bench, but I thought our bench was pretty good, too. Keely's pretty good off the bench. He could start easily."
"It's a great feeling. I haven't had this feeling since two years ago. We worked through adversity."
On the free throw: "We didn't know what was going on -- whether he tipped it or not."
"It's been intense. All good teams fighting for the same thing. It comes down to what teams gets the stops and executes at the end. We did it."
"We worked hard for it. We've been going hard in practice. I feel like we deserve it."
On playing Abreu: "He's a competitive player just like I am. I told him, he was playing the best I've seen him play."
"It feels great. It's hard to put it into words. It feels great to be a part of this. To get this win tonight and advance to the tournament is a blessing and a great opportunity for us."