It will be an all Buckeye State final in the American Conference Tournament as the top-seeded Akron Zips clash with the seeded Ohio University Bobcats at Quicken Loans Arena.
The in-state rivalry between these squads has been tight over the years with Ohio leading the all-time series by just a 34-31 margin. This year the teams split two meetings, although the Bobcats crushed Akron 85-61 in the last matchup. This is a rematch of the 2010 title game, won by Ohio (81-75 OT).
Ohio proved yet again that despite being a lower seed it was the superior team, knocking off the two-seed Buffalo Bulls in the semifinals. The Bobcats beat the Bulls for the third time this season by posting a 77-74 win to get into the title game. The Bobcats have five tournament titles to their credit, with the last one coming in 2010.
Akron took down fourth-seeded Kent State in its semifinal matchup, its second win against the Golden Flashes in a week. The Zips faltered a bit down the stretch, but it didn't stop Akron from grabbing the top-seed with a 13-3 mark in league play. Akron has a league-best seven tournament titles and has won two of the last three crowns, including last year's thrilling 66-65 overtime win against Kent State.
Ohio went into the half with a commanding 46-35 lead against Buffalo and looked poised to cruise into the championship game. The second half began with more of the same and the Bobcats quickly went up 16, 55-39, with just under 18 minutes left. The Bulls then rattled off 13 unanswered points and brought the game to within three, 55-52, just two minutes later. Again and again the Bobcats would begin to build a lead only to have the Bulls claw their way back in including down the stretch where after trailing 77-69 the Bulls scored five straight to make it a one possession game, 77-74 with under a minute to play. Reggie Keely missed two free throws for Ohio with 25 seconds on the clock, but the Bulls then missed two attempts from beyond the arc to surrender the decision.
D.J. Cooper was spectacular in the win, just missing a double-double with 18 points and nine assists. Par for the course for a player that led the team in both scoring (14.2 ppg) and assists (5.6 apg). Although Keely (9.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg) didn't come up big at the end of the game, he also played well in the semifinals, scoring 14 points and bringing down seven rebounds. Walter Offutt (12.1 ppg) is the team's is another offensive threat. Ohio is solid but not overly efficient on offense, scoring 70.8 points on a pedestrian 42.9 percent shooting. Defense instead is the team's strength, limiting opponents to a mere 62.0 points per game.
The Zips held off a late surge from Kent State to collect the 78-74 win in the semifinals. Akron jumped out to some large leads, including a 13-point margin at one point, was never able to keep the momentum going and pull away, as the Golden Flashes kept fighting back. The Zips almost gave up the game after leading 74-65 with 48 seconds remaining, allowing Kent State to go on a 9-2 run to make the score 76-74 with 15 seconds left on the clock. Alex Abreu calmly hit two free throws after that to seal the win.
Akron needed every bit of offense in the semifinals. On the season, the Zips averaged 72.3 points per game, while ranking second in field goal percentage (.462). MAC Defensive Player of the Year Zeke Marshall was a little too aggressive defensively in the game against Kent State and fouled out after scoring only eight points. On the season, Marshall led the squad in scoring, but at only 10.3 points per game. The Zips rely more heavily on balance on offense rather than the efforts of a one or two individuals. Nikola Cvetinovic (10.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) had his turn at the top of the scorers list in the semifinals, by putting in 15 points, while on the season Alex Abreu (9.3 ppg, 4.6 apg), Brian Walsh (8.3 ppg) and Quincy Diggs (8.1 ppg) were also reliable scorers. Diggs makes his contributions from the bench and was named the MAC's Sixth Player of the Year this season.