The Akron-Bowling Green series has been just a little one-sided ever since Keith Dambrot took over as the Zips head coach in 2004. Akron had won 24 of the last 25 against the Falcons during Dambrot's tenure with a couple of the last few games ending in agonizing fashion.
On Friday night in Cleveland, the pattern continued as the Zips (26-7) made it 25 wins in their last 26 with an 80-66 victory over the Falcons (16-18) that moves them one step closer to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Both times these two teams have faced off this season have been Akron-dominated performances, but this wasn't so much so. Bowling Green played well, killing the Zips on the glass while keeping the Akron lead at just one with 13 minutes left in the contest. The Falcons played confidently for those first 25-30 minutes, but ultimately the more experienced team showed up when it mattered to close out the contest.
Akron knew it had a difference-maker inside in Isaiah Johnson that Bowling Green couldn't matchup with, and the junior center from Cincinnati delivered. He was given the ball on nearly every possession he was on the court, and made the most of every touch. His finishing around the basket was superb - he finished 9-11 from the floor - and ended up with 23 points. That could have been more, but a surprisingly average night at the free throw line (5-10) saddled what would have been an MVP performance.
Although Johnson only had one assist, his kickouts led to three-pointers from teammates Reggie McAdams and Jake Kretzer. The Zips were just 9-24 (38 percent) from beyond the arc, which is what Huger's gameplan revolved around. "They weren't going to beat us with threes," Huger said, also pointing out that the Falcons held Akron under their season average for three-point makes per game (12).
The Falcons did well to hang with the Zips for so long - and even outrebounded the regular season champions 38-26 including an 14-4 victory on the offensive glass. But, those rebounds didn't turn into enough points in the end, and 12 Falcon turnovers certainly didn't help.
BG had the Akron lead at just 53-52 after a Spencer Parker layup with 13 to go, but then Akron hit their stride. Johnson scored nine straight points, looking unstoppable in the post and causing the Falcon frontcourt to pile up fouls. BG's starting center Demajeo Wiggins picked up his fourth foul with 11 minutes to go, as Akron's gameplan centered on getting the ball to Johnson.
A Kretzer three put Akron up 11 with 8 minutes left, and suddenly it was gut-check time for Bowling Green. They never responded as they did at the end of the first half, as they could never get closer than eight points. Antino Jackson hit a three at the top of the key to put the Zips up 13 with four minutes to play, and the name "Akron" was already being written into the finals on the tournament bracket.
Huger got solid games from Parker (11), David Joseph (11) and Antwon Lillard (12), but ultimately they just didn't have enough horses to hang with a deep Akron team. It was a great tournament run for a young team who didn't have a lot of success during the season, but now have momentum going into the offseason.
Johnson led the Zips with 23, and Kretzer followed him up with a fantastic 15 points and five rebounds. McAdams joined his fellow senior in double digits with 14, while point guards Jackson (12) and Noah Robotham (11) both turned in good performances.
With the win Akron moves on to their first MAC Tournament final since 2013 and will face either the Buffalo Bulls or the Ohio Bobcats at 7:30 tomorrow on ESPN2. The Zips are 2-0 this season against both schools, but will surely be tested no matter who they face.