In our mind, sporting events always have close, thrilling finishes. We closed our eyes and salivated at the thought of Akron and Ohio playing yet again for the MAC Championship. We opened our eyes, and DJ Cooper was scoreless from the field.
The last time Cooper didn't make a field goal was his freshman year against Kent State. He went 0-for-1 and scored three points. It was the only other time he blanked from the floor as an Ohio Bobcat. Under the biggest stage in MAC basketball, he went 0-for-8, six of those from 3-point range, missing badly on many of the attempts. He did have six assists to go along with five turnovers. Reggie Keely played the best, no question, for them with 19 points — including their first eight of the game. Walter Offutt had nine points and 11 rebounds. I hate to focus on this part of the story, but coming into the season we thought they were the ones again. We bought into the hype, but sometimes you just have a bad game.
The story is Akron, of course. They've endured much. First they had to kick Quincy Diggs off the team after he struck his ex-girlfriend. Then a clerical error in the compliance department led to Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney having to sit out for three games — two of which were overtime losses. Then that other thing. Through it all, they won 19 games in a row, had a one-week fling with a top 25 ranking, won a MAC regular season title and also the tournament.
The cool, consistence force through all of that is Keith Dambrot. For years his claim to fame was coaching LeBron James in high school. Perhaps we should start thinking of LeBron James as the guy who was coached by Keith Dambrot in high school. The program exists at their current level because of him. You can also throw some praise to the seniors: Zeke Marshall, who didn't necessarily have a GREAT night (10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Chauncey Gilliam, who scored 13 points — the most for him since December.
But Dambrot found a solution at point guard, and it's going to be an interesting one in the NCAA tournament. Carmelo Betancourt started and played 27 minutes, although he did cramp up. He only committed one turnover to go with five points, three assists, two steals and a great drawn charge on a potential DJ Cooper fastbreak layup. When he sat, Nick Harney handled the point and is a much more dynamic, if not wild, force. Harney scored 11 points thanks to his ability to slash to the basket but turned it over six times. This team is worse without Abreu than they are with, but they can hold their own at that position and let Marshall and Demetrius Treadwell go to work.
So no, the score was pretty ugly at the end. In fact, 46 points for Ohio is their lowest game total since 2010, when Kansas squeezed them in a 98-41 laugher. But as the victor became evident, I couldn't help but appreciate what they overcame this year. Obviously when someone wins a title, there's adversity that needs to be met and overcome, but it sure seems like the Zips had more than most this year, perhaps second only to Toledo in the MAC. And it's not over for them. They're probably looking at a 13- or 14-seed, and their next opponent's gonna be their toughest adversity yet.