This week saw the calendars flip to February, which serves as a reminder that the MAC tournament is drawing nearer by the day.
With all twelve teams vying to climb up the conference standings as the road to Cleveland shortens, MAC hoops fans were treated to an exciting week of action.
Some of the league’s most bitter rivalries that featured packed gyms, another Emoni Bates performance that turned heads across the country, and a surprise emergence of an unexpected team captured the MACtion spirit this week.
1st — Akron (9-1 MAC | 17-6 overall)
- 1/31: 81-64 W @ Buffalo
- 2/3: 67-55 W vs Kent State
This week’s schedule featured the Zips’ most pivotal pair of games of the season, and they delivered in a big way. John Groce’s squad’s week began with a strong road performance against Buffalo, which was nothing short of an offensive clinic. UA canned 12-of-18 threes and made 31-of-56 from the field en route to a wire-to-wire domination. Senior Xavier Castaneda led the charge with 32 points on seven made three-point shots.
After Tuesday’s statement road win, the Zips welcomed their bitter rival, Kent State, to the J.A.R. for a bout for first place in the MAC. Akron held Kent State’s to its lowest scoring outing in conference play, and avenged its 2022 home loss to the Golden Flashes. Senior Enrique Freeman was the catalyst with a 19-point, 17-rebound night.
Akron has appeared to catch fire at the right moment, and is riding an eight-game winning streak. The Zips’ streak have them atop the standings for the first time this year.
T-2nd — Kent State (8-2 MAC | 18-5 overall)
- 1/31: 81-69 W vs CMU
- 2/3: 55-67 L @ Akron
After losing its first conference game last week to NIU, this week of action felt especially crucial for Kent State to regain its momentum.
Despite this, the Golden Flashes did not jump out to the most impressive start in Tuesday’s home contest against CMU. Kent State trailed 41-44 after the first 20 minutes, and struggled to put the Chippewas away until deep into the second half. Led by a group effort, with six Golden Flashes scoring in double figures, Rob Senderoff’s bunch outscored Central 20-9 over the last 8:55 to secure the win.
Tuesday’s victory set the stage for a nationally-televised match-up against Akron on Friday night. The Golden Flashes played their signature stout defense, holding Akron to under 70 points, but could not produce enough offensively to leave the hostile J.A.R. victorious. Kent State’s offensive woes could, in part, be attributed to one of its starting guards, Giovanni Santiago, exiting after four minutes due to a hand injury.
T-2nd — Toledo (8-2 MAC | 17-6 overall)
- 1/31: 81-78 W @ Miami
- 2/4: 84-59 W vs CMU
Entering the week as winners of six of its last seven games, Toledo continued its success to keep within striking distance of the league’s top spot.
The final score of the Rockets’ road win at Miami reflects a closely-contested matchup, but the game was firmly in Toledo’s grasps as it led for over 36 minutes. The spark behind the victory was junior RayJ Dennis. The Plainfield, Illinois product dropped 29 points, dished out six assists, and grabbed two steals.
Toledo’s Saturday contest against Central Michigan quickly turned into a lopsided affair. The Rockets jumped on the Chippewas early, with a 49-21 halftime lead, and cruised through the remainder of the game. UT forced a staggering 21 Chippewa turnovers, and drew 22 fouls in the dominating win.
4th — Ball State (7-3 MAC | 16-7 overall)
- 1/31: 69-60 W @ BGSU
- 2/3: 91-90 W (OT) vs EMU
The ascending Cardinals put together two impressive performances as they continue to recover from a dreadful two-game skid a couple weeks ago.
Ball State collected a much-needed road win against Bowling Green on Tuesday, but it was certainly a rocky one. Michael Lewis’ team was hot out of the gates, as it built a lead that swelled to as high as 20 points toward the end of the first half. However, Cardinals lost their lead and allowed the Falcons to even the score with 7:24 remaining, but eventually pulled away with clutch free throws and defensive stands.
BSU followed up its road win with arguably its most exciting game of the season versus Eastern Michigan, which was played in front of the program’s largest crowd since 2009. With all five starters scoring in double figures, the Cardinals fended off Emoni Bates and the Eagles in a fast-paced overtime thriller.
5th — Northern Illinois (6-4 MAC | 10-13 overall)
- 1/31: 73-59 W @ WMU
- 2/4: 86-78 W @ BGSU
Picked to finish last in the MAC preseason coaches poll, the Huskies continued to surprise the league this week with a pair of well-earned road victories.
On Tuesday, the Huskies were a force on the defensive end, which allowed them to control the lead from start to finish. NIU rejected a whopping seven of the Broncos’ shots, and snatched 5 steals in the win. The Huskies also moved the ball exceptionally well that night, with a total of 15 assists.
The squad’s Saturday win over Bowling Green was a similar story. Rashon Burno’s squad distributed the ball well, this time recording 21 assists, and led the Falcons for all 40 minutes. David Coit continued his strong campaign in this matchup as he scored 21 points off five made threes.
6th — Buffalo (5-5 MAC | 11-12 overall)
- 1/31: 64-81 L vs Akron
- 2/4: 85-76 W @ WMU
Buffalo has experienced one of its most inconsistent seasons in recent years, and this week followed suit.
On Tuesday, a slow start against a red-hot Akron squad proved fatal, and led to a disappointing home loss. The Bulls trailed the Zips by as many as 24 points, and only controlled the lead in the opening minutes. UB could not contain Akron’s Xavier Castaneda on the defensive end, and struggled offensively, with 18 turnovers.
Following the home loss, the Bulls rebounded with a strong road performance against Western Michigan. Buffalo was led to victory by the duo of Curtis Jones and Laquill Hardnett. Jones recorded 30 points and grabbed four rebounds, and Hardnett posted a 27-point, 15-rebound double-double.
T-7th — Bowling Green (4-6 MAC | 10-13 overall)
- 1/31: 60-69 L vs Ball State
- 2/4: 78-86 L vs NIU
The Falcons were sitting comfortably in the middle of the standings prior to this week, but fell into the bottom half with two losses.
Tuesday’s home bout against Ball State saw a quick start for the Cardinals, which snowballed into a 20-point lead in favor of the cardinal and white. Despite the deep hole, the Falcons did not waver, and evened the game in the second half. BGSU’s late push was not enough, but showed commendable resolve. Leon Ayers III, Chandler Turner, and Rashuan Agee all scored in double figures.
In line with Tuesday’s comeback, the Falcons nearly pulled off a come-from-behind win against Northern Illinois on Saturday. BGSU trailed the Huskies by 16 points with nine minutes remaining, but fought back to nearly win in the final minutes. Leon Ayers III and Chandler Turner scored 20 and 21 points, respectively.
T-7th — Ohio (4-6 MAC | 12-11 overall)
- 1/31: 79-90 L @ EMU
- 2/4: 78-68 W vs Miami
Jeff Boals led his program into the week in an startlingly-low spot in the standings, but did not take advantage of two winnable games to help its cause.
Tuesday’s loss to Eastern Michigan can be almost entirely attributed to a lackluster defensive effort from the Bobcats. OU allowed Eastern to score 90 points, tied for the most points conceded by the squad this season, and saw the Eagles convert on over 50% of its field goals and threes. Despite the poor overall showing, Dwight Wilson III performed at a high level, with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
On Saturday, Ohio played with a greater focus on the defensive end, and won the first round of this year’s the Battle of the Bricks. Jaylin Hunter and Dwight Wilson III both scored 20 or more points for the second consecutive game on the way to victory. An impressive 8,322 fans took in this rivalry game.
T-9th — Eastern Michigan (3-7 MAC | 6-17 overall)
- 1/31: 90-79 W vs Ohio
- 2/3: 90-91 L @ Ball State
As a team that has failed to meet preseason expectations and has deeply struggled in conference play, this week was a step in the right direction for the Eagles.
Eastern opened the week with a win against Ohio, something that it had not done since 2019. After a back-and-forth first half, the Eagles did not once lose possession of the lead in the second half. Emoni Bates enjoyed a 19-point night, but Tyson Acuff’s performance was the most impressive in the box score, as he posted a career-high 29 points.
After the confidence-boosting win, the Eagles traveled to Muncie to battle one of the league’s best, Ball State. EMU clawed back from an early 10-point deficit to lead at the half, but a second-half surge from Ball State sent the game to overtime. Bates was a thorn in BSU’s side during the overtime period, but the Cardinals prevailed at home in a one-point game. Bates scored 35 points, which is just his third-highest total on the year.
T-9th — Central Michigan (3-7 MAC | 8-15 overall)
- 1/31: 69-81 L @ Kent State
- 2/4: 59-84 L @ Toledo
Tony Barbee’s team entered the week desperate for a way out of the bottom half of the standings, and did not find it in its grueling pair of games.
The Chippewas were firing on all cylinders in the first half of Tuesday’s road contest against Kent State, and took a three-point into halftime. Central kept up the Golden Flashes basket-for-basket for most of the second half, but fell on a cold shooting streak, and scored just nine points in the last 8:55. CMU let a winnable game slip through its fingers, but sophomore Markus Harding’s 22-point outing was encouraging.
Unlike Tuesday’s game, the Chippewas’ Saturday matchup at Toledo was out of reach from the opening tip. Plagued by 21 turnovers and poor defense of the Rockets’ fast-paced offensive attack, CMU did not once lead the Rockets, and even trailed by 33 points for a stretch during the second half.
11th — Western Michigan (2-8 MAC | 6-17 overall)
- 1/31: 59-73 L vs NIU
- 2/4: 76-85 L vs Buffalo
Aside from two consecutive wins early in conference play, Dwayne Stephens’ first year in Kalamazoo has been challenging, and this week did not provide much relief, with two losses at home.
Despite playing on their home court, the Broncos were easily dismantled by Northern Illinois on Tuesday. Western shot the ball at abysmal clips in the loss, as it shot 21-of-67 from the field, and a bleak 2-of-22 from three. Lamar Norman Jr., the Broncos’ leading scorer, shot just 4-of-17 from the field, and 0-of-9 from three. Markeese Hastings was the sole bright spot, with his 22-point, 19-rebound double-double.
Although WMU found more rhythm offensively against Buffalo, the Bulls dominated the Broncos on the glass, which propelled them to victory. Western’s 28-to-41 deficit on the boards can be attributed to Markeese Hastings’ departure after just five minutes of action. Tray Maddox Jr. shined in the loss, as he posted 21 points, six rebounds, and five assists off the bench.
12th — Miami (1-9 MAC | 7-16 overall)
- 1/31: 78-81 L vs Toledo
- 2/4: 68-78 L @ Ohio
Miami experienced another pair of close losses, as it continues to slide down a dreadful slope.
Although Toledo led Miami for the vast majority of Tuesday’s game, the RedHawks were on the heels of the talented Rockets for nearly all 40 minutes. Travis Steele’s team efficiently made 31-of-58 shots from the field, but was held back by its turnovers. Morgan Stafford led the way with 25 points and 11 rebounds in the loss against UT.
Despite a tightly-contested game against the rival Ohio Bobcats, the RedHawks did not leave Athens victoriously due to offensive woes. Miami converted on just 22-of-55 field goal attempts, and again turned the ball over more than it took the ball away.
The RedHawks must turn things around quickly, in order to have a chance to compete in Cleveland.