The Akron Zips won the regular-season championship in the Mid-American Conference. They'll now have a chance to win the MAC Tournament and return to the NCAA Tournament. Akron reached the 2011 edition of the Big Dance, so this team knows what it's like to close the sale in the month of March. The Zips absorbed a strong challenge from the Kent State Golden Flashes to once again make the MAC title game, where they'll face the Ohio Bobcats.
Akron carved out a nine-point lead with 1:58 left, but Kent State never stopped competing in this contest. The Golden Flashes benefited from four missed free throws by Akron and used a three-pointer from Randal Holt to trim their deficit to 74-71 with 28 seconds to go. Akron had to deal with crunch-time pressure, but after missing four foul shots, the Zips gathered themselves.
Brian Walsh hit two foul shots for Akron at the 25-second mark of regulation to give the Zips a five-point lead. Holt responded for Kent State with another three at the 16-second mark to pull the Golden Flashes within two points at 76-74. Akron had to sweat out one more sequence at the charity stripe, but Alex Abreu calmly drained both foul shots with 14 seconds left to enable the Zips to breathe easier, in possession of a two-score advantage. Kent State missed a desperation three with five seconds left, and when that shot didn't go down, the Golden Flashes ran out of time. A loose ball scramble consumed the remaining amount of time, and Akron advanced in the bracket. Coach Keith Dambrot's team pushed back every challenge during the MAC regular season, and if it can hold up against one more challenge from Ohio, it will go dancing once more.
The Mid-American Conference arranged its tournament so that the top two seeds would have the best chance of making the final. The MAC gave the top two teams in the regular season a bye into the semifinals, so when the second-seeded Buffalo Bulls played their first MAC Tournament game on Friday night in Cleveland, the Bulls were competing in the semifinal round.
The bracketing format didn't do them much good.
The Ohio Bobcats rose to the challenge of taking on a more rested opponent. Ohio was smart and steady in holding off Buffalo to make the MAC title game against the Akron Zips.
Up 64-54 with 12:33 left in regulation, the Bobcats had to withstand a number of three-point baskets made by a Buffalo team that attempted a lot of triples. Buffalo became a scary and dangerous team, so Ohio needed to show an extra degree of perseverance to push through to the finish line. The Bobcats watched that ten-point lead get sliced to two with 8:42 left and had to redouble their efforts.
That's exactly what they did. In a span of four minutes and 40 seconds in the crunch-time stretch of this game, Ohio cranked up its defense and allowed just one made basket from Buffalo. The Bobcats smothered the Bulls and extended their lead to 77-69. Buffalo crept within four points at 77-73 with 37 seconds to go, and Ohio then missed two foul shots with 25 seconds left, but the Bobcats - having given Buffalo an opening - then forced a turnover just a few seconds later. Buffalo didn't hit another shot against Ohio's defensive pressure, and the Bobcats rejoiced at Quicken Loans Arena.