Akron started the game with incredible defense, leading 26-10 halfway through. Miami shot a lousy 4-22 in the first half, setting a new MAC tournament record for fewest points scored in the first half. The Zips started the second half with the same intensity, quickly increasing the lead to 20 points. That was when the Redhawks began to pick it up, shooting 15-27 the rest of the game. With over 8 minutes left to play, Nikola Cvetinovic fouled out by lightly breathing on Julian Mavunga, the MAC's version of an NBA superstar. Zeke Marshall also had 4 fouls at this time.
Speaking of the Marshmallow, give him some serious credit for the way he played yesterday's game. Dambrot was forced to play him with Cvetinovic out so early on. He played with tremendous poise, avoiding the fifth foul until 1:20 remained on the clock.
Now before I get to the end of the game and the two overtimes, I need to point out exactly how bad MAC officials are. There were plenty of horrendous calls throughout the game, but the worst of those all went towards Miami and LeBron Mavunga. Or maybe Julian Wade. Amar'e Stoudevunga? (By the way, he shot 19 free throws in this game).
1) Mavunga, under the hoop, shouldered Mike Bardo so hard it dislodged him from his position. The result? Two free throws for Mavunga.
2) Brett McKnight, standing behind Mavunga as he shot a layup, reached up and pulled the ball out of his hands. The ball rolled back to him. The only way this could have happened is if McKnight had made contact with the top of the ball. Mavunga's hands, obviously, were on each side. The result? Two free throws for Mavunga.
3) In the second overtime, McKnight stole the ball from a Redhawk player underneath the Akron basket. He immediately went for the layup. Miami's Quinten Rollins slammed his arm down in the middle of McKnight's arms hard enough to send the 6'7" power forward careening to the ground, nearly head-first. The slap was nowhere close to the ball. Intentional foul, right? That's two free throws AND possession to Akron, right? Nope. That's a normal foul. That kind of stuff is normal. Happens every day.
Now that I've vented my frustration for basketball officiating as a whole...
After a back and forth first overtime, the Zips found themselves down 75-74 in the second with 3:21 to play. After Mavunga bricked two free throws, Alex Abreu was left wide open for a three, which he promptly drained. After two more Miami misses, and two more Miami missed free throws, Brett McClanahan sealed the deal with another 3-pointer, putting the Zips up 80-75 with :32 left.
McClanahan finished with a team-leading 20 points, a team-leading 9 rebounds, an assist and a steal. I am so glad we have this guy next year.
Brett McKnight also had an incredible game, with 16 points, 6 rebounds, an assist and 2 steals. He finished the double-overtime game with only 2 fouls. I am not glad we don't have this guy next year.
Cvetinovic ended with 10 points and 7 rebounds. I'd have loved to see his stats if he hadn't fouled out 18 minutes before the game's end.
The Zips play Western Michigan at 7pm tonight on STO. I'm a little worried about the fatigue level through the rest of this tournament, but the good news is Cvetinovic and Marshall are better-rested than the rest of the Zips, thanks to fouling out early.
Watch out, Western Michigan. Akron is a heckuva lot better than a 6 seed.