At around 1:30 on Thursday afternoon, this was not the match-up that most were expecting to see in the first semifinal of the MAC Tournament.
At that time Akron was down 12 to Eastern Michigan with 8:46 remaining and all hope looked lost for the Zips to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Bowling Green was getting ready for warmups as an underdog, looking like a longshot to take down last year's number one seed Central Michigan.
A lot can change in just a few short hours.
The Zips steamrolled back, using a 10-2 run over three minutes to keep breathing. Noah Robotham's huge three put the Zips up 62-61, and a last possession stop gave the Zips the victory. Bowling Green had a comeback of their own, erasing an 8-point deficit and taking the lead with 13 seconds left on an Antwon Lillard 3-pointer. The Falcons held on to stun the Chippewas 62-59, which marked the first time that BG had won two games in the MAC Tournament in 14 years.
The history between these two schools has been well documented, and frankly it's not pretty for Bowling Green. Stunningly Akron has won the last 24 of 25 games against the Falcons, and a good deal of them have been in agonizing fashion. Whether it's B.J. Gladden's game-winner with four seconds left last season, Quincy Diggs' buzzer beater the year before that or Nick Harney's lay-up with one second remaining two years ago, the Falcons have been snakebitten numerous times against Keith Dambrot.
Surprisingly the Zips and Falcons have only met once in the MAC Tournament during Dambrot's tenure: a 63-55 Akron win in 2009. For as much history as the teams have had, there hasn't ever been a match-up with this much on the line.
Both times the two teams have met this season Akron has dominated. The Zips won 83-68 at Bowling Green and demolished the Falcons 89-54 on national TV in the JAR. The common factor in victory for Akron was what it normally is: three-point shooting. The first time out Akron shot 16-32 (50 percent) from beyond the arc and followed that up with a 19-41 (46 percent) performance. Akron's ability to hit threes is usually a key to the game, but it was a big reason that they were able to get out in front of Bowling Green by so much during that 89-54 drubbing.
The Falcons certainly didn't help themselves with poor shooting from deep. To keep up with Akron making 3-pointers is a must, and the Falcons just couldn't do it. They shot a combined 10-29 (35 percent) in both games, which isn't terrible, but Akron made and attempted more threes in each game on its own. If Bowling Green can't stop them, they're certainly going to need to make them if they want to keep up.
Another thing to watch is that if the game becomes close, the Zips would likely be the team to win a free throw battle. For those that have followed Akron basketball for the past few years that sentence probably sounds odd, but it's true. The Falcons rank 323rd in the nation in free throw percentage (65 percent) and were 20-37 (54 percent) in both games against Akron. The Zips meanwhile are better at 69 percent this season, and have the benefit of having multiple guys on the floor who are solid free throw shooters.
Bowling Green may not have a talent advantage, but they'll be playing with nothing to lose. Akron on the other hand has everything to lose, especially as everyone is now expecting them to beat BG and move on to the MAC Tournament Final. If the Falcons start the game playing great defensively, it could be another long game for Akron. But, if the Zips come out firing early, it'll kill any confidence BG carries over from the CMU game. Surely it's going to be entertaining, as all games in the MAC Tournament usually are.