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Buffalo brought a group of 20 to 30 students, including some with the letters of "Buffalo" painted on their chests. The AK-Rowdies outnumber them but nearly not by as many as you'd expect. What happened to this group?
In the media room, Elton Alexander and I were chatting about our Coach of the Year candidates. My list of the top three includes (in no particular order) Geno Ford, Keith Dambrot and Billy Taylor (Ball State), with Charlie Coles getting consideration. Alexander said that John Groce of Ohio would break into his top three.
As the Buffalo fans chant, "Let's go, U-B," I realized that this might be the best organized non-Kent student showing at Rhodes Arena. But back to Akron's lackluster student section... Word among the Rowdies is that there is not enough marketing done toward students. I'm sure Tom Wistrcill will listen to such complaints.
Each senior was presented with a framed jersey. Chris McKnight's parents were looking quite dapper. They all received nice ovations. This isn't their last game at Rhodes Arena, of course. The March 5 game against Kent State should be intense. It's wise not to complicate the Zips' emotions by also holding Senior Night before that nationally televised game.
Last year's senior, Nate Linhart, is playing in Austria. He has a nice contract and is playing well.
The last time Tom Gaffney visited Buffalo, Akron students outnumbered the Buffalo students something like 100 to 10.
Akron starters: Steve McNees, Humpty Hitchens, Chris McKnight, Jimmy Conyers and Zeke Marshall.
McNees fired a deep three to give the Zips an early 3-0 lead (and allowing alumni to stand for only 17 seconds).
Marshall fought through a weakside screen to block a John Boyer layup attempt. McNees hit another 3 on the next time down the court.
We are more than seven minutes into the game and Buffalo only has two points. Reggie Witherspoon called timeout, perhaps to provide compasses to the rim. Gaffney bet me a quarter that the Bulls would score on this possession. Calvin Betts (ironically named) clanked a 3-pointer to make me 25 cents richer. Well, almost. Gaffney, a Stow resident, told me, "Take it out of my taxes."
Betts and Rodney Pierce are a combined 0-9. Max Boudreax, one of my top 100 favorite Canadian athletes, scored on a mid-range jumper to score Buffalo's second field goal in 10 minutes.
The ball ricocheted out of bounds, over the media table and into my hands. Sadly, this is the closest I have ever come to Division I athletics. Well, there was the time I swung at softballs with a whiffle bat during a halftime spectacle... Thanks to Mike Waddell for making me look like the south end of a northbound horse there.
McNees splashed his third 3-pointer and Conyers scored on an offensive rebound, giving the Zips a biblical 24-4 lead. Another Buffalo timeout followed.
Conyers was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. He missed all three free throws, but Nik Cvetinovic cleaned up the offensive rebound for a successful put-back.
It has been awhile since Akron has laid a good beatdown on a MAC opponent at home. You know, one of those games that is decided before halftime.
Betts has an ugly shooting stroke. His shooting wrist goes crooked in the follow-through.
A ref called Marshall for going over the back on a rebound attempt. If Marshall was 6-foot-6, it would have been a foul, but it is perfectly legal to reach over someone without touching them. To referee a game where one player is so much taller is novel for refs of any level. It will take some politicking from Dambrot to get MAC refs to see things his way.
Coming soon to a Jimmy Conyers poster -- Sean Smiley. On a fast break, Smiley attempted to foul Conyers, but the Zips senior threw down a wicked one-handed slam in spite of Smiley's hand check. Every player should get a dunk like that on Senior Night.
A couple painted Buffalo fans walked over to the glass above the AK-Rowdies to discuss world hunger--or something like that. A police officer escorted the Bulls fans away, after they refused to obey a Rhodes Arena employee.
Cvetinovic pulled his trademark double-pump free throw, which drew Buffalo offsides. It is quite analogous to the quarterback's hard count. He got another free throw and made it. Besides getting another free throw, it's also a fantastic way to boost your percentage at the line.
Cvetinovic continued his Bush League MAC Tour by flopping on a screen set by Pierce. He is the Zips' version of Anderson Varejao.
Pierce got called for his third foul as he was falling down. Chris McKnight, who was allegedly fouled, looked away from the refs with a big grin, because he knew it was a bogus whistle. The radio guys saw it, too.
Tim Carroll entered the game with 40 seconds left in the first half. The way this game is going, he should get plenty of playing time tonight. Or maybe not... After Betts made a short shot over Carroll, Dambrot yanked him.
Halftime score: Akron 39, Buffalo 23. Notable stats: Akron leads the rebounding, 21 to 15. Buffalo, the best shooting team in the MAC, is shooting 28.1 percent, compared to Akron's 50 percent. The Bulls are 1-for-8 on 3s, compared to Akron at 5-for-10. Brett McKnight has 10 points. Betts has six for Buffalo. Pierce, a Player of the Year candidate, is scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting. Conyers has eight rebounds and two blocks. Marshall also has two blocks.
Taylor Made Jewelry awarded a fan a $2,000 diamond at halftime by pulling a name out of a hat. Can't you at least make a guy humiliate himself before hooking him up with a discounted 2011 Valentine's Day?
With only two players leaving Dambrot's rotation after this season, who picks up those 50-some minutes at forward? Do the Zips start to play smaller? Does Brett McKnight become a 30-plus minute-a-game player? Will either Josh Egner or Michael Green not redshirt? Does the lineup get bigger, with Mike Bardo and Steve Sweich getting more minutes? Will Brett McClanahan earn time at small forward, opening up time for Ronnie Steward and/or Alex Sullivan to play?
It seems to be true that if you don't play for Dambrot as a freshman or redshirt freshman, you are unlikely to earn time as an upperclassman. That doesn't bode well for Sullivan or Sweich.
Chris McKnight swooped into the paint like Batman and swatted a shot attempt.
The Bulls are back within 13. If the Zips get sloppy on perimeter defense, Buffalo will start to hit 3s and this game will become a lot closer.
In other MAC-tion, Kent State came back from a big deficit at Bowling Green. It is a close game with 12 minutes left. Miami is up five at Ohio with 12 minutes left. Eastern Michigan is giving Ball State a scare in Muncie, Ind.
While we're talking about next year, what happens to McClanahan is it turns out that Dakotah Euton can play right away? He must become a more consistent contributor to be assured of a place in the rotation.
Cvetinovic stole a pass and ran the floor by himself for a breakaway dunk. He put his arms out like an airplane running back down the floor. It's great to see a player who has so much fun and is so passionate. If only he had a dimmer switch...
I think Ronnie Steward is a player who should receive more consistent playing time. He is a true point guard, and probably Ohio's best in his recruiting class. Injuries have held him back, but there's no denying the spark when he enters the game. I think McNees has established his pedigree as a good MAC point guard. Steward should get the backup minutes next season.
At shooting guard, you have Roberts and Hitchens. At center, you have Marshall, Cvetinovic and Bardo. The question is forward. We know Brett McKnight gets a chunk, but it would seem the other minutes are up for grabs. I think you can start to play Cvetinovic at power forward, a more natural position. And maybe one of the true freshmen can share the spot with him. Then Brett McKnight starts at small forward, with McClanahan and/or Euton playing when he rests.
After a missed Zips free throw, the Bulls all tumbled, leaving Marshall to grab the rebound, take two steps and slam the ball. He has seven points and five rebounds.
Now that I've thought all of this through, here is my projected 2010-11 depth chart: PG -- McNees, Steward, Hitchens; SG -- Hitchens, Roberts (equal minutes), Sullivan; SF -- McKnight, McClanahan, Euton; PF -- Cvetinovic, Green/Egner; C -- Marshall, Bardo, Sweich.
Marshall picked up his fourth foul 25 feet from the hoop. It was a dumb foul for Marshall, and it will keep him off the floor. He has to be smarter on defense.
A member of the AK-Rowdies his holding a giant sign of Dambrot's face. It is the size of half the backboard. It's pretty funny to look at him smiling on the sign, then look at his grimace in real life.
The Bulls are third in the league in 3-point percentage, but they aren't falling tonight. Pierce had one spin about 80 percent in the cup, then out. Buffalo is 2-for-14 from behind the arc tonight. As Charles Barkley said recently on the air, "Nobody lives by the 3, but you can die by the 3."
Akron already has 10 fouls this half, so the Bulls will be shooting two for the rest of the game. Buffalo, meanwhile, only has one timeout left.
Akron clinched its first-round bye, regardless of whether Buffalo pulls off a shocking comeback. Ohio beat Miami tonight. As I wrote on Monday, for the only scenario in which Akron must play in the first round, Miami would have to finish the season at 3-0. If the Zips win tonight, they clinch either the first or third seed, which sets up the Akron-Kent final (which should get the MAC commissioner excited as far as ticket sales go).
There hasn't been much happening in the game. The TV timeouts and excessive amount of calls have disjointed the action. Akron leads by 15 with 3:14 to go.
Betts and Conyers are tied for second in the league with six double-doubles apiece. Both players are one statistic away from their seventh. I take that back. Conyers scored his 10th and 11th points. Betts still needs another rebound for his seventh double-double.
Even if Kent State enters Rhodes Arena with a one-game lead over Akron, a Zips win still would clinch the MAC regular season championship for Akron. Why? If Akron wins that game, both teams will finish at 12-4. The first tiebreaker (head-to-head) will be a wash. Then you go down the seeds to find a team that Akron fared better against, or vice versa. The teams both beat Ball State and both split versus Buffalo. So it will come to Miami, a team that Akron swept and Kent State split. So the Zips would win the tiebreaker. It is almost certain that March 5 will determine which team is guaranteed a postseason appearance in the NIT (which goes to a regular season conference champion that doesn't go to the NCAA Tournament).
The AK-Rowdies are chanting Michael Reghi's name. Why? Because that's what you do after you chase the "Canadians" out of the building. (By the way, I don't see what's so bad about being from Canada, anyhow.)
Conyers is frustrated by a play in which Smiley stripped him, then smacked the ball off Conyers' face and out of bounds.
Cvetinovic did not pump fake on inconsequential free throws at the end of the game. That should show that his tactic is for a competitive advantage.
The Rowdies are chanting "Put in Carroll." With 32 seconds left, it hasn't happened yet. They busted out giant face signs for Carroll, Conyers and Chris McKnight as well. Someone over there must work at Kinkos.
Buffalo is trapping and fouling Akron, down 10 with fewer than 30 seconds left. Come on. Really? Don't they have a bus to catch? There is another foul on Pierce, down 12 with 12 seconds left. To echo Joe Dunn: "I have no idea why he did that."
Pierce has been attacking the rim on these meaningless possessions. I think stat stuffing is what he was up to.
Final score -- Akron 77, Buffalo 67
With the win, the Zips clinch a spot in the first or third seed of the MAC Tournament, along with Kent State.
Notable final stats: Five Zips scored in double figures (McNees, 15; Brett McKnight, 14; Chris McKnight, 12; Conyers, 11; Cvetinovic, 11). Pierce scored 19, all in the second half. Akron shot 52 percent, compared to Buffalo's 34.4 percent. The Bulls were 3-for-18 on 3-pointers. Conyers led both teams with five assists (a career high). Betts grabbed 14 rebounds (many of them in garbage time) to lead both teams. Marshall blocked three shots.
Kent State beat Bowling Green tonight. The upshot of that is, the teams' games on Saturday are meaningless. No matter what, the game on March 5 will determine the MAC regular season champion. As I said earlier, Akron will take the crown, even if they're trailing a game in the standings via the second tiebreaker (better record vs. Miami). Conversely, if Kent State is down a game coming into Rhodes Arena, and they win, they will win the conference championship based on the first tiebreaker (head-to-head vs. Akron).
What a weird situation: Akron will have played two meaningless February games within eight days.
McNees averaged 15.5 points in two games against Buffalo.
Other MAC scores: WMU beat Toledo by 20. (I told you Toledo wouldn't win a MAC game.) Eastern Michigan pulled off an upset at Ball State. Central Michigan and Ball State are playing a tight game in DeKalb, Ill. That last bye will be hotly contested, and now that Miami and Buffalo lost tonight, the Western Division teams are in the hunt for it.
"I felt like I was a big part of the reason we lost by so much (at VCU). I took this game to heart. This game was releasing my negative energy. I worked hard because I had that on my mind."
"We still have to work hard. We worked so hard during the season, we deserved it (a first-round bye)."
"People have a lot of off days. We have so much depth on our team."
On Pierce "His confidence level is very high."
"I rank this as number one. This was Senior Night. They beat us bad. We tried to make a statement right back."
Thoughts during the Senior Night ceremony: "Just hurry up and get this game on the road."
"They're a team that has a good system. They never give up. They play to the last second. They're a hard-nosed team."
"We had a horrendous walk-through today. We had a couple pretty good days of practice. I thought they had trouble shooting the ball. It's so hard to judge how people play. We shot the ball in and they didn't."
"I thought at times they had some open looks they didn't make. The best thing we did was maintain our lead between 10 and 15. Sometimes that's hard. I'd rather have that 16, 18 point lead with five minutes to play than with 35 minutes to play."
"For as much depth as we have, we tire at times. They move us around so much. They make you play through that whole clock, so it becomes difficult."
"It was one of the biggest regular season games we've played. It allows us to for sure play for the championship the last game of the year. It was a big ball game for us."
"I thought Jimmy played will. Other than the pass he threw to the popcorn man, it was a good performance."
"I thought Ronnie Steward played well. He's the best on-the-ball defender we have. He's explosive to the rim. We feel we need more impetus, more explosion. We need to get something off those guys."
"When the ball goes in the basket, you feel like you're getting better."
"We've won 21 games already and people say we're having an erratic year. We have had very few games we haven't competed. We play together every day. Those guys won 20 games in five years. If you take that for granted, you're out of your mind."
Witherspoon "has one of the best systems. We play against each other so much, we feel like we know them better than we know us. It's constant back cutting."
"Akron played hard. Their seniors went out right. They outworked us in almost every category. They deserved to win."
Pierce "started aiming the ball after awhile. After awhile, he started aiming it. It looked like he had no lift in his legs."
"It seemed like, at least in the first five minutes, I liked the shots we got. Some of the shots we got were from good shooters. Good shot, squared shoulders and clanked it."
"We got Ohio at home next. We'll lace them up and play it."
A first-round bye "is important to every team, especially the way the tournament is now."