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Liveblog - MAC Championship

By mrasor Published: March 13, 2010

Men's basketball
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The Zips and Bobcats will face off tonight at 6 p.m. for the MAC Championship. Below is a clip of the end of last night's game against WMU...

I hope I never take this for granted as a Zips fan. As we have learned with the football team, this sort of success can be fleeting. Although Akron will probably be a favorite next year, there is no guarantee that the Zips will have a chance for an NCAA berth like they will tonight.
Akron is a one-point favorite. The over-under is 133.
[poll id="103"]
Pete Conrad of the Dayton Daily News did a good job breaking down why Ohio won: Armon Bassett, DeVaughn Washington and 12 first-half points by Miami.
I arrived in Cleveland. You have to love the buzz in the building. It's thick.
Ohio is scary because of its two guards who are equally likely to score 30. And both have lit up Akron. Bassett dropped 25 on the Zips at the Convo. D.J. Cooper scored 33 at Akron.
Both teams shoot a lot of 3s. I watched the Bobcats harass Miami's guards outside the 3-point line the part of last night's game that I saw. Ohio allows the lowest 3-point percentage in the conference. If Akron thinks it will be able to chuck up 20 3-pointers and win, that is a problem.
As Akron fans watch to see how the Zips defend Bassett and Cooper, Bobcat fans will hope to limit the Zips on the offensive glass. In two games, Jimmy Conyers combined for 25 rebounds, Chris McKnight had 21. This season, Ohio's rebounding margin was -0.2, third-worst in the MAC. Akron was +2.5, which was second-best.
Tom Wistrcill made a major hire recently, adding Dan Satter from Boston University as his senior associate athletic director in charge of external relations. This is from the press release:

Attendance has grown significantly for many of BU's sports over the last two years. A record-setting crowd of 5,935 attended the 2008 Terrier Tailgate men's soccer contest, the largest crowd to watch a college-soccer game in Massachusetts, and 4,963 set the women's college soccer record a year later. Terrier Rewards, an on-campus loyalty program launched for 2008-09, tripled student attendance in one year for basketball and Olympic sports. His season ticket sales plan quadrupled accounts for men's basketball. Satter also oversaw the profitable marketing efforts for the 2009 Women's Frozen Four held on campus at Agganis Arena.

Clearly, Wistrcill has identified student support as a major hurdle. Not to say his predecessors had not. Can Satter fix it, though?
The players weren't on the floor during the national anthem. I imagine that's to appease the folks at ESPN2, but still.
With seven minutes until gametime, the stands are about 50 percent full overall. From the sounds and colors of the fans here, I think it's about a 70-30 split in favor of Akron.
Before Senior Night, I wrote that I didn't think we could truly assess Chris McKnight's career until after the postseason. I felt that he needed another opportunity to cement his place in Zips' history, which he has not done yet. Last night's game was a big step. If he manhandles the Bobcats inside again tonight and carries the Zips to the NCAA Tournament, his legacy is secure in my opinion as an important member of Keith Dambrot's tenure, akin to a Nate Linhart or Cedrick Middleton, but not quite the status of Romeo Travis, Dru Joyce or Jeremiah Wood.
Ohio starters: Bassett, Cooper, Kenneth van Kempen, Tommy Freeman and Reggie Keely. Akron's starters: Steve McNees, Humpty Hitchens, Chris McKnight, Zeke Marshall and Conyers.
Maybe I'm not observant enough, but Ohio has the only cheerleading squad where two women hold up another woman above their heads. Normally, they have the men lift the women.
By tipoff, which Marshall won, the lower bowl was about two-thirds full.
On the first possession, Marshall grabbed a missed Conyers floater and got the ball stuck between the rim and backboard.
It's crystal clear that Dambrot wants to exploit the Conyers-Freeman matchup. The Zips' senior has isolated against the 190-pound forward twice in the first minute.
Cooper made a 3. Before that, most of Ohio's offense has been mid-range jumpers by the post players. Just keep Bassett from feeling special. We don't need another Carlos Medlock/David Kool situation.
Cooper and Bassett do have a weakness: size. Dambrot might want to experiment with a lineup of Hitchens, Conyers and three big men. This would require Bassett to guard Conyers in the post, and I think Conyers can keep up with him on the other end.
The Zips have been wise to aggressively pursue Bassett every time he gets the ball. My hunch is, the scouting report says Bassett likes open space.
Cooper just splashed his third 3-point attempt. He hasn't missed yet.
Bassett hit a 3 after shoving McNees off of him. The refs missed the call, even though it happened right in front of one of them. It was a clear push-off. Cooper did the same exact thing a minute later. Still no call. Are these refs serious? The Ohio fans behind me are justifying it by saying, "No blood, no foul." I've never heard that phrase be necessary in an offensive foul scenario.
There is a dude on Ohio's dance team.
I hope MAC fans know what they have in this Cleveland tournament. I was watching the Big Ten Tournament today from Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. I have covered probably 15 events at that venue, and I think The Q is better in most facets. So this is one aspect in which the MAC has the Big Ten beat. The MAC officials do a good job to make things run smoothly, too.
McNees did a great job staying in front of Cooper on a dribble drive. As a result, Cooper plowed him over, and the refs finally dealt comeuppance in the form of an offensive foul.
The AK-Rowdies have affixed a mustache onto the giant cardboard cutout of Dambrot's head. In case you planned to grow one yourself, coach, it's not a good look based on this cutout.
The lack of backcourt size will hurt Ohio in the NCAA Tournament, if they get there.
Conyers picked up his second foul. He and Washington are the only players with two. Whoops. Add Keely to that list; he just went over Brett McKnight's back. McKnight missed the front end of the one-and-one.
Ohio's Ivo Baltic is the game's worst foul shooter. He fired a bottle rocket off the side of the rim. I would say Akron should put him on the line more often, but I don't know if the MAC brought a replacement backboard.
In five seconds, Cooper sprinted the full length of the court for a layup as the buzzer sounded to end the half.
Halftime stats of note: Ohio is shooting 50 percent, compared to 37.5 percent for Akron. In that regard, the Zips are lucky to be down only two. The Bobcats are 6-of-11 on 3-pointers, too. Akron is winning on the boards, 21 to 16. Akron has made four more free throws than Ohio. Cooper has 14 points. Conyers has 11; Chris McKnight has 10 and five rebounds.
The key to the second half is pressuring Ohio's guards more beyond the 3-point line. When Akron did that, the Bobcats struggled to get a good shot. The other key is for Akron to work the ball inside. The Bobcats are poor interior defenders.
I'm playing real-life Where's Waldo. My friends think it's neat to describe their location via text message until I reciprocate a wave to them.
Ohio blew out Kent State and was never in jeopardy of losing last night to Miami. You have to wonder if the Bobcats are as ready as Akron for a nail-biter.
Because of his foul situation, Washington is this half's target on offense. Marshall backed him down for a baby hook. Washington just picked up his third foul, an offensive one.
Ohio moved to a 2-3 zone. A lot of MAC teams do this to Akron as a change of style. The scouting report must suggest that it's effective.
Bobcats coach John Groce is furious after a long rebound wound up returning to Akron.
Keely picked up his third foul. This will give Akron an even larger opportunity to score in the post, if the Zips choose.
Pretty soon, we will have to vote on the All-Tournament Team. Here are my preliminary picks: Kool, Bassett, Cooper, McNees and Chris McKnight. Any other suggestions?
Baltic slid inside Brett McKnight to grab an offensive rebound. On the ensuing possession, he had McKnight backed down under the hoop with an easy opportunity to score. Inexplicably, he dished it out to the perimeter. Giving up that kind of opportunity shows Baltic has no intention to be an offensive threat.
They showed a Kent State fan on the jumbotron, which inspired unanimous boos. It's good when Ohio and Akron fans can agree on something.
The Bobcats mascot has its tail coming through the back of the basketball shorts it wears. It looks strange. Yes, we get it. Cats have tails. But it looks more like the poor mascot's fly is down than anything else.
Conyers committed his third foul under the hoop on offense. He is still out there. Dambrot must trust his senior not to pick up a silly fourth. Conyers has been big on the glass.
After this timeout, Cvetinovic will shoot two free throws. Let's see if he pulls his normal pump fake. ... The possession arrow pointed to Ohio. That might have caused Cvetinovic not to pull the pump fake.
Chris McKnight made a deep jumper. The refs stopped play to see if it's a 3 on replay. It was only a two.
After a missed Ohio 3, Chris McKnight saved it for Akron by throwing it off the back of van Kempen's neck. The Dutchman must be a cool cucumber, because he didn't seem to mind.
Washington committed his fourth foul on Chris McKnight, who made both free throws to give Akron the lead back.
van Kempen heaved a long jumper. Before it even reached the rim, Ohio fans moaned. That's when you know fans have no confidence in your J. (By the way, am I supposed to capitalize "van Kempen" when it starts a sentence? I need to call the copy desk.)
Ohio is back to running the 2-3 zone defense. Akron hasn't figured out exactly what to do except pass around the perimeter until something opens up. Now they're back to man defense, which is not ideal with the present personnel because it requires Freeman to guard Conyers in the post and van Kempen to guard Brett McKnight on the perimeter.
Akron has nine fouls. Given some of the hack shooters that Ohio has, it might not be the worst thing in the world. Cooper, of course, makes almost all of his foul shots.
They announced that fans are not allowed on the court after the game. I think that's a good policy. As Rick Reilly recently wrote, fans are charging way too frequently nowadays. It should be for something special and unusual.
I filled out my All-Tournament Team lineup with Kool, Cooper, McNees, Chris McKnight and Bassett. The MVP will be either McKnight or Bassett, depending on who wins this game.
With his rebounding, Conyers is single-handedly keeping this game close. He gathered two offensive rebounds on one possession, which ended with a made put-back.
This upcoming possession is important. Ohio has the ball, up four. The Bobcats can make their lead a little more comfortable.
McNees again stuck with Cooper on the dribble-drive and blocked his shot. Dambrot didn't want to play McNees much as a freshman because he was a defensive liability. But I'm telling you, McNees is an underrated defender now.
Cvetinovic was called for a foul. He argued vigorously, and it appeared as if the ref would T him up before McNees shoved Cvetinovic away. Nice save. van Kempen made both free throws to extend Ohio's lead to six with 2:30 left.
Roberts made an eight-footer to chip it back to four. Akron called timeout with 2:23 left.
I would like to say that Cooper, a freshman, might fold under pressure. But I've seen different at Rhodes Arena. It seems like the Bobcats will work primarily through Bassett anyhow. Darryl Roberts fouled him on the arm while shooting. Bassett split the pair.
Roberts glided through the lane and made a finger roll off the glass. Washington coughed up the ball in the post. Akron called timeout, down three with 1:09 to play.
Somehow, van Kempen was guarding Roberts. He drove and swished another eight-footer. Ohio is up one, and they're going to run the clock. They can run all but 18 seconds. Bassett stumbled and lost the ball. Chris McKnight led the break. Washington swatted the ball to the ground. The ball went out of bounds. Zips ball, down one, 19 seconds left.
Two questions: 1) Who gets the ball? 2) How many seconds do you run off the clock before attempting a shot or starting the offense? My answers: 1) McNees. 2) About 10.
On the floor for Akron: Roberts, McNees, Hitchens, both McKnights.
Brett McKnight drove, left his feet, tried to whip an interior pass to Conyers and it went out of bounds. Ohio ball. 15 seconds left. Cooper could not inbound the ball. Threatened by a five-second call, he threw it too long for Freeman along the sidelines, out of bounds. Zips ball again. Timeout Akron.
This is the kind of game where I wish I was in the stands. Way too hard not to cheer. And typing during all this... Ugh.
Washington slapped back an inbound attempt. Akron will try again. Conyers tried to inbound it to Chris McKnight, but van Kempen tapped it away.
Bassett gathered the loose ball. McNees fouled him. 13 seconds left. Basset made both. No timeouts left for Akron. McNees repeated Thursday's bomb! He drilled a deep 3!!! Wow. Tied up. Six seconds left.
Cooper already showed he's fast enough to go end-to-end in five seconds at the end of the first half. I think he will get the ball. Akron is challenging the inbounds pass. Conyers is deep guarding Freeman. Cooper got the ball. He threw a 12-footer too long off glass. This crazy game will continue for at least another five minutes. I hope the ESPN2 audience is loving it as much as fans are here.
Nothing against Chris McKnight, but I want my ballot back. McNees is my alternate MVP if Akron wins. ... The MAC granted my wish. We got new ballots for the MVP only. That must be because of McNees' shot.
Conyers grabbed another critical offensive rebound off a Marshall missed free throw. He put it back to bring Akron within one with three minutes left.
After two Washington free throws and a stop on defense, Ohio has the ball up three with 2:20 to play. van Kempen celebrated the situation by airballing a mid-range jumper. McNees swished a deep 3 to re-tie the game. 1:30 left. Bassett made a runner. Brett McKnight missed a 3.
Now Ohio has the ball up two with a chance to run all but five seconds off the clock. McNees was called for a blocking foul. Cooper will shoot two. He made both.
Now Akron is in more trouble than at the end of regulation. The Zips need a quick two (or 3, if it's wide open), then to go for the steal/foul. The Zips don't need to chuck up wild shots yet. Extend the game.
Akron went for the 3, even though it wasn't there. McNees missed a turn-around 3. Chris McKnight got the rebound and missed another 3 with van Kempen in his face. Ohio rebounded the ball and outletted it to Bassett, who dunked the nail in the coffin with four seconds left.
Final score -- Akron 75, Ohio 81
Ohio deserves this MAC Championship. Similar to how Akron got hot last year, the Bobcats were just about unbeatable with that guard tandem. They beat the conference's three best regular-season teams in three consecutive days.
After advancing to the finals of the MAC Tournament and winning 24 games, Akron would ordinarily have a good argument for the NIT. But I doubt it will happen because Kent State is already representing the MAC. There are two other tournaments that would probably invite Akron, but the athletic department will have to pay if it wants a home game. I'm sure if there's an opportunity to give Chris McKnight, Conyers and Tim Carroll another game, the university will take it.
All-Tournament Team: Kool, Medlock, Bassett, Conyers and Chris McKnight. No Steve McNees? You must be joking. Well, at least Akron got two representatives. I don't like the Medlock selection because his team didn't make it past the quarterfinals. The MVP is Bassett, which makes sense.
Final stats of note: Ohio outshot Akron 47 percent to 36 percent. Akron outrebounded Ohio 48 to 42. Bassett had 25 points. Cooper had 23, six assists and seven rebounds. van Kempen grabbed nine rebounds. For Akron, Conyers had 19 and 12 rebounds, Chris McKnight had 18 and 10 rebounds. McNees (12) and Roberts (11) were also in double-figures.
POSTGAME QUOTES
Keith Dambrot
"We had some things not go our way. We didn't shoot the ball well. We battled. you get 23 offensive rebounds. We just didn't make any. Humpty didn't move very well. He was beat up. They have good guards. Those guys carried them."
"They played 2-3 zone, so we had a lot of good looks. We just didn't make any."
"Terrific fight. Ohio U played well. They got on a roll like last year. They spread you out, which makes it hard. They got some good performances. We didn't quite have it, but we fought, and fought, and fought. We never quit, just like the other two nights."
"I had somebody text me and tell me this might be our best team. We don't have anybody like Bassett or Cooper. But it is a team. It shows how tremendous fight they have. You saw it in all three games we played. We didn't dominate anybody all year. We've been in a bunch of close games. It's disappointing. I feel bad for their guys. I feel good for Coach Groce and Ohio U."
"I wish we would have more time (to prep) for a zone. I thought we were short-handed with Hitchens not playing as much. I didn't feel he was moving well. I decided to go with Darryl. We didn't have much preparation last year either."
"I thought we were a little soft in the first half defensively. It's hard because van Kempen comes out and makes three jumpers. It was who could make more plays. We knew it would be like that."
On Conyers: "Man, what does it say about the guy? Did you see the resolve in the guy. Every ball that went up, he acted like it was the last ball he'd see."
On Chris McKnight: "I consider them (the McKnights) family. That's one of my favorite players all-time. He hasn't gotten the respect he deserves. He followed Rome and Wood. We have been one of the youngest teams in the league for two years. We're going to have more opportunities. We're going to have chances again. We just have to play a little bit better."
On Marshall: "I thought Zeke was good the first two games. He was good offensively tonight, but he struggled. And he should struggle. He's not very strong. With about 25 pounds on him and some hard work, he's going to be a very good player with a chance to be a pro. He's a great kid. He doesn't care if he starts. He doesn't care how much he plays. We're going to build the program around him. I think he had a good freshman year."
"We're going to the postseason, but we're not going to the NCAA. I don't think the MAC is ready for two teams. Will we get to the NIT? With Kent's automatic bid, probably not. Playing in the NIT or the CBI, that's not chopped liver."
"Like I told them in the locker room, it's not like somebody died. It's not like somebody has cancer. It's over. We tried. That's all that matters to me is that we tried."
Jimmy Conyers
"Ever since Coach Dambrot took over, the program was about defense first, offense second. That's how you get to the championship. Somebody has to get him Coach of the Year."
Chris McKnight
"Ever since I've been here, I've played in a MAC championship. Unfortunately, three out of four didn't go our way. It's just the way that Coach has built the program. He has brought in good guys. He has brought in tough guys."
"There for awhile, we were just trading baskets. They're such a good team. Their guards are unbelievable. They are big and strong inside. You can give Cooper or Bassett any space because the ball is going up and it's probably going in."
"The pace of the game was kind of more in their favor."
"My freshman year was the most devastating, when we had Rome and Dru and Wood and those guys. It was hard. Sometimes it just doesn't roll our way. I don't believe anybody in the league has been to four straight MAC Championships except us. We have showed our dominance in this league."
On playing with Brett: "It's tough. I've been playing with him for over a decade. Now that it's coming to an end, it kinda sucks. His decision to come to Akron ... I told him before he even signed that if he can go somewhere better than Akron, do it, because I wanted him to be better than me. Now that it's coming to an end, it's kind of devastating."
John Groce
"Obviously, we're thrilled to have the opportunity to represent our conference and our university. Everything we've been through as a team made us stronger. Our team has become closer with all the adversity we've dealt with. It's only fitting that the game ended the way it did today. I'm really proud of the way we finished and the poise in overtime after the shot from McNees."
"I have a lot of respect for Akron, and they're going to continue to be good."
On what he said to McNees postgame: "I have a lot of respect for Steve. He plays hard and to win. He made a really big shot. Hindsight is 20-20 but I wish I would have fouled. I planned on doing that. I just didn't want to put him on the line. They're such a big rebounding team. I thought just roll the dice and obviously McNees made a big shot. I think he's a tough kid. He's a very smart basketball player."
"We had a great routing going. We were really in rhythm. I wanted them waking up at the same exact time each day, getting them their ice baths. This is our fourth game in seven days. We had some guys banged up (and the trainers) had them ready to go."
"These guys are 18 to 22-year-olds that we're trying to help become men. They're not perfect. I'm not. None of them are. That's our purpose -- to educate them, to make them better people. That's not something we just say as lip service. They weathered the storm and learned some very valuable lessons along the way."
"Every day is adding to the memories that they'll always have and always cherish. They'll really cherish it later on. My son was walking around holding the net. I think our guys will appreciate it more and more. They played obviously at a very high level."
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I got to experience some of those runs in the NCAA Tournament (at other schools). We'll be relying on some of those experiences. Toughness wins this time of year. Your guys being mentally and physically fresh wins games this time of the year."
"The one thing that they did was trapping D.J. and Armon off ball screens. They suggested that we open up the floor. I wouldn't trade those two guys for anybody. I respect their opinions. I felt we should open the floor, not screen for them and bring another guy over."
"Tonight, when I finally get to sleep more than two hours, I'll take a deep breath and say, 'Wow. We had a tough road.' We were the only team to win on the road (in the first round). To play Kent, our arch-rival Miami and Akron -- it wasn't easy."
Armon Bassett
"He's a special player. Other than John Wall, no other freshman point guard is putting up the numbers he's putting up."
"The last half of the season, we grew up so much. A month ago, we would have lost a game like that. We started to pull the games out because our chemistry is so high."
"I came here because I saw Coach Groce's vision. He's a heck of a recruiter. We didn't win the conference tournament at Indiana. For us to all be here right now is amazing."
"We started off the conference 0-4. They were all close. We kept believing in ourselves. A lot of teams would have thrown in the towel."
D.J. Cooper
"Armon didn't start off as hot as usual, so I stepped up and took what the offense gave me."
DeVaughn Washington
"It feels good to know that as a team we went through so much stuff. Myself, going through so much stuff. Just don't flinch. You have to keep going and believing in yourself."
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