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Akron Zips vs. Western Michigan Broncos MAC Tournament Final: Cold shooting dooms WMU in 58-45 tournament loss

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The Zips just know how to win in the MAC Tournament.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Dambrot and Steve Hawkins know each other pretty well. They are the longest tenured coaches in the conference, with Hawkins coming to Western Michigan just one year before Dambrot got to Akron in 2004. They met last year in the MAC Tournament, except this time it was much earlier than either team would have liked.

Last year's semi-final was a heartbreaker for the Zips, who gave up an 18-point second half lead and lost in overtime to these same Broncos. That win propelled Western Michigan to their first NCAA Tournament in a long time after they dispatched Toledo in the final game.

That took us to tonight, where Akron came in winning both games against Western Michigan during the regular season. The winner would move on to play Kent State in the quarterfinals, and the loser would go home much earlier than expected at the beginning of the season.

Akron was able to control the first half through key three-point shooting and good defense, while Western Michigan tried to stay in it even though they weren't shooting well at all. The second half was more of the same, as WMU just couldn't buy a bucket and ultimately fell 58-45.

It was an uncharacteristic start for Western Michigan, who went the first nine minutes of the game only making one field goal - a three-pointer - on nine attempts. Meanwhile Akron capitalized on Western Michigan's mistakes, nailing three 3-pointers en route to an 12-2 run to push the Akron lead to 14-5 with 11:16 to play.

Drake LaMont finally broke the nearly four minute scoring drought with a bucket, but Reggie McAdams answered on the next possession with yet another long bomb. The Broncos did cut it back for four at 18-16 after a 9-0 run, with all but two from David Brown.

Akron came back firing though, going on a 7-0 run of their own punctuated by a McAdams dunk. McAdams ended scoring the last six points of the half, and Western Michigan got two lay-ups from LaMont and Connar Tava to bring the halftime score to 27-20.

Shooting was clearly the difference in the first half. Akron shot 41 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc in the first while, while WMU was just 21 percent from the floor. The Broncos made up for it a little at the free throw line. WMU shot 86 percent from the line (6-7) while Akron was just 3-7. Offensive rebounding was also key for the Broncos, who scrapped together nine offensive rebounds.

The Zips didn't start the second half off the way they wanted to - three bad turnovers lead to two quick Western Michigan baskets. Pat Forsythe then came in and picked up his third then fourth foul in just five minutes of play. During that timeframe the Broncos slowly but surely got the lead down, and tied the game at thirty on two David Brown free throws.

Both teams shot poorly after that, as Akron went on a nearly three minute drought without a basket and Western Michigan was only able to score once during that time period. Play was marred by chippy fouls and questionable calls on both sides - which the fans loved pointing out to the stone-faced referees.

The game was broken open by an Akron 9-0 run in less than 90 seconds. Threes from Kwan Cheatham, Antino Jackson and McAdams busted the Zips lead to ten at 42-32 and Hawkins had to take a timeout.

Thomas Wilder broke the run with an and one bucket, but the Zips came back down and answered with yet another three-pointer, this time from Jake Kretzer. The two teams traded baskets over the next couple of minutes, and with 3:22 left on the clock Akron still lead by ten at 49-39. It was time for Western Michigan to either make a run or go back to Kalamazoo way earlier than they wanted to.

A run is not what happened. Western tried to battle, claw and fight their way back into the game, but it just wasn't meant to be. The Zips actually made their free throws down the stretch, going 6-7 over the final four minutes to secure the victory. A deep McAdams three with 1:56 on the clock put Akron up 54-41 and the game was all but over.

McAdams led the Zips with fifteen points on 5-13 shooting, including three 3-pointers. Cheatham put up a double-double with eleven points and ten rebounds, while Antino Jackson also got into double digits with ten.

Wilder paced the Broncos with 12 points and seven rebounds, and nobody else was in double digits. David Brown finished with nine, but was only 1-10 from the field. The Broncos shot just 26 percent from the field and 65 percent from the free throw line, which ultimately led to their demise. WMU finishes up the season at 20-13, and will likely end up in the postseason somewhere.

Akron notches their tenth straight 20-win season with the victory, and will face heated rival Kent State in the quarterfinals tomorrow night.