MAC Finals Preview & Semis Recap
An Akron – Ohio Final…should be a good one
A week ago, any team in the Mid American Conference would have been well within their rights to stroll down the glass slipper aisle at their local Foot Locker just to see if 2010 edition possibly came in their size. As of tonight though, only two teams find themselves in a position to be fitted. And while similar in their opportunities to represent their conference in the field of 65, those two teams couldn’t be more different.
Akron came into the season pegged as the preseason favorite to repeat as champions of the Mid American Conference, and while it wasn’t easy over these last two days, they have done enough to put themselves in a prime position to do so tomorrow night. Ohio University on the other hand (a 9-seed), comes into the MAC championship game possibly a year ahead of schedule in the eyes of many observers. With only one senior on the roster, this is a team that just might be pegged as the preseason favorite next year, but these Bobcats aren’t interested in talking about next year.
While Akron is arguably the best overall team - with respect to balance and depth - OU will put arguably the best two talents on the court tomorrow night. Not to take anything away from the team that OU is, but in Armon Bassett – a guy that started his career at Indiana, then transferred to UAB before ending up a junior at OU – the Bobcats have a guy that is a high major talent. He’s played like a high major talent as well throughout this tournament, and with one game still to go, he’s already scored 91 total points breaking the tournament scoring record previously held by another high-major talent, Earl Boykins (89 total pts). And while he’s playing certainly his best basketball of the season right now, his play is not necessarily the surprise that the production of teammate DeVaughn Washinghton’s been this week. Washington is probably the best overall athlete in this tournament, and as of late, he’s also playing like one of the best overall players. Miami Coach Charlie Coles – a guy who’s seen a lot of athlete’s in his time - agreed in the press conference after the Miami –OU game with that point about Washington’s athleticism, and if he can continue to be the presence he’s been playing off Bassett, Akron’s going to have their hands full tomorrow - whether or not the banged up Freshman of the Year, DJ Cooper, has an impactful night or not.
But all that’s not to say that the Zips won’t be ready, and don’t have some athletes and playmakers in their own right, because they do. In the McKnight brothers, Steve McNees, Jimmy Conyers, Humpty Hitchens, and the emerging 7-footer Zeke Marshall, the Zips will be a stern test for the youthful Bobcats. A test they’ve yet to pass this season in two tries. Akron Head Coach Keith Dambrot said in his presser that while he’s “not sure any of his five starters would have started for his Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis teams,” he also added in regards to his group that “the whole is better than the sum of its parts.” And while this tournament has seen guys like David Kool, Carlos Medlock, and Armon Bassett put their teams on their backs towards victory with monster game point totals of 42, 39, and 38 respectively, Akron has seen different guys step up at different moments. McNees hit the huge three one on Thursday, scored 18 against Eastern, and scored only 5 on Friday against Western. Chris McKnight, after scoring 8 on Thursday, stepped up and scored 18 tonight which included his finding the game winner off the glass for the go ahead two to win it Friday. Any of the other guys that take the floor for the Zips come Saturday are capable of having those kinds of nights as well, even if they haven’t yet.
It should be a fun one tomorrow night, and if you’re around Cleveland, there’s no reason you shouldn’t stop by to join the 10,000+ expected to attend. It’s not like you have anything better to do, and it’s not like there couldn’t be a better match-up to see…winner goes dancing, loser goes homes…no pressure.
Recapping the Semi Finals…
Akron 66 – Western Michigan 64
While I don’t know for sure, I imagine David Kool was seated on the bus ride from the hotel to the arena for the game tonight. What I do know for sure is that once it started, he never sat down again. He played all 40 minutes, and averaged just under a point per minute played. He scored 39 points and he looked like an NBA Jam player with fire streaking from the basketball as he shot it all night long. He was unbelievable. Western Michigan connected on 21 field goals as a team and Kool accounted for 12 of those. He scored 61% of his team’s points, and just about singlehandedly won a game that felt like Akron was in firm control of all night long. The Zips led by as many as 14 with 7:46 to go in the first half, and led by as many as 11 with 16 minutes to go in the second, but Kool just kept coming. He eventually tied it up at 54 on a jumper with 8:28 to go, and would help his team to a 3-point lead with 1:34 to play (64-61), before Akron’s Chris McKnight hit a mammoth three-pointer with 1:10 left to tie it back up. After an Akron timeout, with the score tied at 64 and 30 seconds to go, the Zips ran the clock down to about 10 seconds before Steve McNees drove the middle of the key and attempted what looked to be his second game winner in as many nights. The ball went all the way down, popped up, and seemed to go down again before sputtering off the rim. Chris McKnight had it the whole way though, and with 6 seconds left, he followed up the miss with a put-back that would prove to be the difference. As the clock expired, Kool heaved a desperation three that everybody in the arena thought would inevitably fall…only it didn’t, and it would be the Broncos that would fall to the Zips, as Akron narrowly escaped with a 66-64 victory.
Kool added 6 rebounds to go with his 39 points on 12 of 21 from the field, and there would be no other Bronco in double figures. Martelle McLemore had 9 points and 5 rebounds, and Flenard Whitfield added 6 and 4. Chris McKnight’s 18 points and 8 rebounds paced Akron in both categories, and Anthony “Humpty” Hitchens added 14. MAC Defensive POY Jimmy Conyers chased Kool all night long, and added 8 points of his own on the other end.
After the game Akron’s Chris McKnight spoke on his last second put-back:
“It was moving a little fast [at the time] but I was just shocked that the ball came back out. It went in, dropped back out, then went back in again, and then trimmed out of there, and all the sudden I was just in the right place at the right time. I just boxed out, and put it back in. It was good for me to do that too because earlier in the season I had missed one at Ball State just like that, same situation, same amount of time, but I missed it, and we wound up going to overtime.”
Ohio 54 – Miami 42
If you were like me, and you sat through the superbly exciting semi-final game that was Akron – WMU, and then watched this one, you were battling the urge to be bored for the majority of the OU – Miami night-cap. And if you’re not sure what I mean by that, allow me to expand. Miami scored 12 total points at half-time. 12. And they only trailed by 9. The 21 -12 halftime total (33 points) was six points less than the 39 that David Kool scored by himself in the game prior. But instead of calling this game boring, I’ll change my reference of it to that of a defensive slugfest instead for the remainder of my recap. What else would you call a game – besides a defensive slugfest – that featured a team up by 9 at the break who was shooting 27% from the field…which is the clip OU shot it at for the first half. For the game, they’d end up shooting it 38% from the field, and win going away – by 12 – and never lead by less than 7 points in the second half. Their lead was as many as 20 (46-26) with 5:26 to play in the game, and at that point it was a realistic possibility that Armon Basset could end the night scoring more than the Redhawks team would combined. He wouldn’t end up doing so, however, but he did score 28 to lead all scorers. Teammate DeVaughn Washington had 18 points and 8 rebounds, and his night also included a couple dunk attempts that would have roused a 10 score had Spud Webb been sitting courtside in judgment. One was right down the middle of the defense where he dunked and was fouled, and the second was a reverse dunk that he took off on in traffic. If you were bored at those points by a defensive game, you were momentarily awoken.
What’s interesting though, was that only two other Bobcats scored a single point, and neither had more than 6. Lone Senior Kenneth Van Kempen scored 6 points along with 7 rebounds, and Freshman DJ Cooper – a 13.5 ppg scorer – had 2. Cooper was limping though, for the majority of the night, and his health will be something to watch for tomorrow. OU has won two big games going away without Cooper making much of an impact, and if he’s healthy tomorrow, it could be interesting to say the least. Miami’s Kenny Hayes was held in check (12 points) by a Bobcat defense that tilted his way all night running double teams towards him the majority of the evening, and he didn’t get much help. Antonio Ballard had 8, and Kramer Soderberg had 8 as well, but 6 of those were after the Bobcats had gotten up by 20. The Redhawks ended their season 10-8 in the conference, and 14-18 overall.
OU’s DeVaughn Washington spoke after on his approach to the game:
“I’m just trying to go out there every night and keep the energy up for our team. I’m basically just trying to play hard, and just do my job. I’m trying to go out there and make energy plays, and do whatever it takes to help my team to win.”