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With 10 minutes until tipoff, attendance look sparse. Are fans thinking: "Well, I expect them to win, so I can spend my weekend (and money) in Cleveland, but if they lose, I don't want to see it anyhow." ? Maybe I'm overthinking it. Maybe it's just that this game was scheduled only three days ago.
Steve McNees ties the school record for playing in his 137th game. Chris McKnight was the sole holder of that record before tonight.
EMU starters: Jay Higgins, J.R. Sims, Will Cooper, Jamel Harris, and Brandon Bowdry.
Akron starters: Steve McNees, Brett McClanahan, Darryl Roberts, Nik Cvetonovic, and Zeke Marshall.
The public address announcer tonight is more neutral than most nights. He has to be, because it's a MAC Tournament game, rather than your normal home game. We didn't see the player introduction video either.
This could be the final game for McNees, Roberts, Brett McKnight, and Mike Bardo. That has to be a unique feeling -- one that causes jitters. Using this game to overcome that is the main advantage, if there is one, of playing on Tuesday.
EMU began the game with five straight points. The alumni didn't get to sit down until about 17:30 when Cvetinovic made a 10-foot jumper.
I will be updating you on the rest of tonight's MACtion: CMU/Buffalo, NIU/BG, and Toledo/Ohio. The CMU/UB and NIU/BG games could go either way.
Akron is playing (what appears to be) a 2-3 zone. Since the transition, the Zips are on a 6-0 run. I would also credit Alex Abreu's entrance into the game. He has a quick four points and two assists.
The university is now allowing fans in the upper bowl to sit in the lower bowl. You might remember this fan-experience tactic from such seasons as last year's 1-11 football campaign. It doesn't compare to the CBI home loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay. I wasn't at that game last spring (out of town), but from all accounts, it was pathetic.
You'll never believe this, but Steve Sweich is sitting with the AK-Rowdies, cheering on his alma mater. Sweich was a seldom-used, but widely loved, big man.
It's early, but Marshall gets Play of the Game honors. He swatted a 3-point attempt, and dove into the crowd to save the ball -- starting the successful fast break. Marshall basically used his arm as a baseball bat and smacked the ball back into play. Two plays later, Marshall got another block near the perimeter, on Bowdry.
It took a few minutes, but the Zips are now looking confident. It helps that EMU hasn't scored a bucket in more than seven minutes.
Akron is now on a 19-2 run, starting with the zone-defense transition. The Zips have since moved back to a man-to-man set.
Marshall got another block (his third) on Bowdry.
Ohio is delivering a beatdown to Toledo. It's 23-4 midway through the first half.
Derek Thompson broke EMU's stink-streak with a 3 from the corner. The Eagles went almost a fourth of the game without a hoop.
I was told that Bardo's mom was thankful for something nice I wrote about Mike. I was hoping to meet her tonight, but since I didn't, "You're welcome, Mrs. Bardo."
Speaking of Bardo, he just made his mom proud by diving to the hardwood to grab a loose ball. The refs made a bad call by whistling a jumpball before Bardo 's timeout request. The senior center got a nice round of applause after checking out of the game.
The relative silence in the arena has made the most vocal AK-Rowdies even more potent. I've never heard so many people be called a d----- b--. (Oh come on, you can figure it out.)
Hot off the press: Jim Tressel is suspended for two games for not disclosing the tattoo impropriety sooner. Of course, one of those games is the opener vs. Akron. So much for my 2012 U.S. Senate candidate. (And yes, I am bringing up politics again. Some readers need thicker skin.)
Marshall is keeled over, clutching what appears to be his groin. He had the ball in prime scoring position when, I think, he took a whack where the sun don't shine. He is now on the bench, shaking his head in agony. McKnight, sitting next to him, is trying to hold back his smirk from the incident.
Up nine, Buffalo is starting to pull away from Central Michigan. NIU and BG are playing close.
The Zips, meanwhile, have let EMU hang around. They have not extended the lead, but nor have the Eagles come back. Until a Cvetinovic last-second floater, the Zips hadn't scored a field goal in more than six minutes.
Halftime - Akron 31, Eastern Michigan 22
Notable halftime stats: Bowdry is 1-for-8 tonight. The Eagles, as a team, are shooting 30.8 percent (Akron, 48 percent). Sims has eight points; Cvetinovic, seven. Marshall has five rebounds. Abreu has three assists. Akron is winning in the paint, with 14 points, compared to EMU's six.
I ran into Andrea Linhart at halftime, Nate's mom. Nate, of course, is playing in the NBDL (or the "D-League") with Erie. Starting 31 of the 37 games, his numbers are solid (10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 47.7% fg). According to his mom, Nate really liked playing overseas. If he doesn't get the call-up to the NBA, that might be where you see him next. I hate to brag, but when Linhart was playing, I told everyone that Linhart was probably the best NBA prospect from the Keith Dambrot era.
Let's pencil in Ohio as advancing to the next round. They will play fourth-seeded Ball State in the late game on Thursday night.
Bardo got trapped in the corner and had to lob a desperation pass to Cvetinovic, which leaked out of bounds. In frustration, Cvetinovic showed off his knowledge of English cuss words.
EMU opened the half with four straight points. Roberts ended the streak with a fast-break layup.
Harris is 0-for-4 at the free throw line. Shooting 42 percent for the year, Harris' foul shot is "broke," as they say at the gym. Higgins (44 percent) is another guy you'd like to foul.
The Zips' zone defense has returned. If it's nearly as successful as the first half, it's a good move.
Back-to-back jumpers by Quincy Diggs and McKnight extended the Zips' lead to 12.
Here are my odds to win the MAC Tournament... Kent 4-to-1. Ohio 4-to-1. Akron 5-to-1. Miami 7-to-1. The field gets whatever is left. I am skeptical of these MAC West teams.
Bowdry elevated to block a Marshall attempt at the rim. He is very bouncy. His athleticism and skill set remind me of Haminn Quaintance, formerly of Kent.
EMU's Antonio Green drilled a 3 to cap a 8-2 run. Akron's lead is down to six.
Bowling Green has pulled ahead of NIU, leading by 14 with eight minutes left. The Falcons would play Western Michigan at noon on Thursday. Buffalo and Central Michigan are playing the closest game tonight.
McKnight picked up his fourth foul. He is heading to the bench, leading the Zips with nine points.
The Zips went back to the zone, and once again, EMU is looking lost.
Dambrot is mad because he thought Bowdry hacked Cvetinovic on an errant shot off a spin move. No whistle. They blew the whistle on Cvetinovic on the other end, so now Nik's mad, too.
The Eagles are now 6-for-16 from the line. As Tom Gaffney quipped, you don't get to be 9-21 for nothing.
The winner of the Buffalo/CMU game will play Kent State at 7 p.m. Thursday. Kent fans must be rooting for the Chippewas. Buffalo beat the Flashes by 25 at home and lost by only three to Kent at the M.A.C. Center. It's not a good matchup for Kent. Buffalo is up six on CMU with nine minutes left.
There's no Bo Boroski tonight, but the fans are upset with the referees nonetheless.
Toledo has fought back against the Bobcats. The Rockets trail by only 11 with eight minutes left.
The referees got a Bronx Cheer when they called a foul on EMU, after a series of unfavorable whistles on Akron.
McClanahan hit a 3 to bring the Zips' lead up to nine with 4:30 left. That was a big shot. The fans are now engaged. Roberts got a breakaway layup on the next play. Timeout EMU.
The refs just took it one step too far. They called Marshall for going over the back of an EMU guard when Marshall didn't even make contact with the guard. It would be getting ugly at Rhodes Arena if the Zips weren't winning by a decent margin.
I should be able to liveblog during each of Akron's games in Cleveland. If you have a smartphone, you can visit my blog while at Quicken Loans Arena. If you're at work on Thursday, you can obviously do the same, unless your employer has the good sense to block Rasor on the Zips.
It's a final score: Bowling Green beat NIU, 74-54. The Falcons will play Western Michigan noon on Thursday.
Roberts is 5-for-5 from the field. He will join us in the post-game press conference, along with McNees.
Bowdry stole a Marshall pass in the backcourt and slammed it, narrowing Akron's lead to eight with 1:32 left. It seems like these sort of steals coming from full-court pressure are very common late in elimination games.
Cvetinovic got away with a travel. He switched pivot feet while being trapped alongside the Zips bench.
After an EMU turnover, the Zips controlled the ball and dribbled out a good chunk of the clock. After two McNees free throws, the lead is 11 with 52.2 seconds left.
As Diggs shoots some meaningless free throws, Bowdry put his arms on his knees and shook his head. It's the end of a quite productive career.
The All-MAC team will be announced tomorrow.
Final Score - Akron 67, Eastern Michigan 53
Notable final statistics: Bowdry led scorers with 14; Cvetinovic had 13. Marshall had nine rebounds; Bowdry had eight. Abreu dished five assists and n. EMU shot 37.3 percent and 16 percent on 3-pointers. Akron shot 48.9 percent and 50 percent on 3s. EMU was 11-for-23 from the free-throw line (47.8 percent).
Buffalo beat CMU, 64-50. Ohio held off Toledo, 74-57. The Bulls and Flashes will meet at 7 p.m. The Bobcats and Ball State will meet at 9 p.m.
That makes 20 wins for Akron. It's the sixth-straight season to reach that landmark.
Akron is 4-1 against the three teams separating the Zips from another MAC Championship (Miami, WMU and BG). They are 1-3, however, against the two likely matchups in the title game (Kent and Ohio).
"For whatever reason, we tried to hit homeruns instead of hitting singles, and we came up with errors. If we cut it to two, or cut it to three, who knows what happens from there."
"It was about what I expected. I thought we were a little heavy-legged, especially McClanahan and Nik. We probably worked them too hard on Sunday. This game is the most pressure-packed game for me, as the coach. These are the games that are hard, because people think you're supposed to win."
"It was an emotional grind. We played two emotional games before this. Playing Kent, we had Ohio before that. It's hard. We didn't get a great performance from our best guys. I thought our bench played well and got us back in it."
"They covered us out(side), didn't cover us in(side). We did a better job of running them off the 3-point line than the past. We did a good job on Bowdry in the first half, not so much in the second half. I thought Nik looked tired on him. We played a lot of zone in the second half, because I didn't think we can guard them, him particularly."
"We played good zone. I think Quincy and Alex play better in the zone than the man-to-man. The man-to-man, you have to have so much discipline to play. The zone lets them freelance. They can make more gambling-type plays, which they're good at."
"I think we got to worry about what we do. We've played them a hundred-thousand times. You can dress a pig up, but it's still the same pig. That's a compliment. That's a good looking pig. He's one of the best coaches in the league. They're a good team; they play hard. They can win it. We know what they're going to do; they know what we're going to do. Nikola's got to outplay Mavunga. We have to guard their perimeter guys. We have to rebound the ball. They're a funny team. Some nights they shoot the ball well. Some nights they struggle. It's going to be a close game. I think all of them are going to be close."
On the MAC East's success tonight: "Does it surprise you really? We were 27-9 against the (MAC West). The disappointing thing is that they got two seeds, and we (the MAC East) got two seeds. Ball State only won one game against the East. The structure is a little unfair right now. I think we should probably go back to playing 18 (league) games. It makes it more fair. The more games you play, the more fair it becomes. Once you get to 18 games, it should be straight-seeded. It's an inequitable system right now."
"If you ask everybody in the league, they don't want to play Ohio or Kent, and maybe Buffalo, right? My point is, I don't really care, because we're going to play anyway."
"I'd rather play than sit around for six days this time of the year."
"It was a pretty standard MAC battle. You gotta grind it out. Neither team is ever out of it."
On possibly playing his last game: "I got here about three hours early and shot. It's definitely in your head. We believe, come postseason."
"Coach does a good job of making it difficult on us."
"We put the regular season behind us. That last week didn't go exactly how we planned."
On Miami: "I know Coach Coles will have them ready."
On possibly playing his last game: "I don't try to think about it too much."
On 20 wins: "It feels good, but we want to win a championship. We definitely earned these 20 wins."