Whenever Steve Mix and Michael Reghi of SportsTime Ohio show up to your game, you know craziness is about to ensue! Television coverage always has a habit of highlighting match-ups and bringing that added atmosphere of excitement to a game. But whenever Mix and Reghi show up for a MAC game, they somehow take it to a new level. SportsNet Ohio covers all the MAC Tournament games in Cleveland each march, and Mix and Reghi have presided over some of the craziest events to occur in mid-major basketball that don't have the privilege of being seen on ESPN2. Just too bad Allie LaForce couldn't also make this trip as a sideline reporter!
The Zips of Akron came into the game with the highest RPI (according to RealTimeRPI.com) in the MAC conference. However, the Broncos of Western Michigan came in with the highest RPI in the MAC West Division and highest Strength of Schedule index in the conference. The site also "predicted" that this would be a 1 to 2 point game in Kalamazoo. That's one you can't afford to miss.
For the Broncos, being a MAC West team, this is always the time of the season where you'd fall on hard times. With the MAC East being such a stacked division time and time again, getting through inter-divisional play is always about survival. WMU had its 11-game home winning streak snapped in a loss to Bowling Green the previous week, and were coming off an OT loss at Kent State. The Broncos NEEDED a big win in the worst way.
For Akron, being perennial MAC East powerhouses, after Ohio St. gets its pick of the litter, Akron has a way of being able to get the best talent in the Ohio/Western Pennsylvania region. With all the post season appearances Akron has made in the past seven years, each season I keep saying, "This is the year one of the bigger schools is gonna snatch Coach Dambrot up!" And every year I'm wrong!
As I entered University arena for the umpteenth time, I was greeted by an usher who said "Welcome to Western." The reality it should have been "Welcome back." As a former team manager for WMU, I was a part of every home game and about half the road games for the better part of four straight years. The sad part about having history is people don't see that you have it. Except for this game, I get to ride in style. Once again, having one of your friends being a D-I basketball coach has its perks! After spending $75 in the bookstore buying alumni gear, getting the chair back seats for a big game is nice and refreshing.
The downside about the high end seating is you have to mingle with the boosters. The difference here from the boosters at a Detroit Mercy game is that here they like to second guess the coach's decisions. They aren't very vocal and seem to be a more educated basketball crowd. These are the kind of fans you want on your side when you have MAC caliber officiating, especially on a weeknight game.
The game itself was very physical. WMU has been eliminated by Akron in the MAC Conference tournament 3 out of the last 4 years. I'm getting a sense that a rivalry has been long brewing dating back to the days when I was on the bench. It's well established that WMU's rival is Central Michigan and Akron's rival is Kent St. But if there ever were any kind of interdivisional rivalry tag, you bet Akron and WMU would like to be dance partners.
The first half of action left WMU up 31-22. When I went down to the scorer's table I was able to see the stat sheet readout on the monitor and it said that WMU was shooting 44% and Akron was shooting 33%. This was huge due to the fact Akron is the best shooting team in the entire conference, and WMU just held them to 33%! Akron was so desperate to change the flow of the game that to start the second half they came out in zone, which gave WMU a 4 for 1 possession that ate up almost 2 minutes of clock.
But as Akron was able to creep their way back in, the tenseness of a game like this became more apparent. The post match-up of Zeke Marshal for Akron and Matt Stainbrook of WMU was one that would have made a good brawl. There were times when one of their bodies would hit the floor on consecutive possessions, often by contact with the other centerman. My time on the WMU bench has almost put me in tune with the team, as I said to myself "Go at Marshall, give him his third foul!" and sure enough like clockwork, Nate Hutchenson drove the lane and was fouled by Marshall. By 13 minutes to go we had a one-point game, and I felt like I needed bottled oxygen!
Midway thru the second half, it was announced that an assist on a 3-pointer by Brandon Pokley gave WMU's senior point guard Mikey Douglas the all-time school record for assists. During such a tense and nerve racking game, it was nice to be able to stop and celebrate the accomplishments of someone who was a part of the program during my tenure. Douglas finished the game with 8 assists and a team high 15 points... but the drama was just getting started!
Fast forward to the last media timeout and the game is tied. These are the moments that turn your hair grey. It may as well be the fifth round and final round for the UFC World Championship and you're tied at 2 rounds a piece. And of course, it came down to the last possession... 20.6 seconds to go and WMU had the ball, they gave it to senior all-conference forward Flenard Whitfield who was fouled and went to the line for two shots. Made the first, MISSED THE SECOND! After a heave by Akron, tied at 59 all and going to overtime!
Thanks Mix and Reghi!
With the pace of the game being a lot like the rest of the second half, flash forward to 36 seconds to go in the overtime period. And after two made free throws by Zeke Marshall put them up by 2 points, WMU again had one final chance to tie the game. Douglas drove the lane and drew a double team, and after the ball bounced around for what seemed like an eternity, Akron's Quincy Diggs pulled down the rebound with two seconds to go. Akron would escape with a 69-66 overtime victory in hotly contested game that was the very definition of "escaped with the win."
As for WMU, the mood was somber around University Arena after this loss. Shooting just 25% for the second half, turning the ball over 16 times and missing clutch free throws in the closing seconds, the Broncos know that they gave this win away to Akron. Now left mired in the middle of the pack in the MAC, it's unclear where to go from here.
AKRON 69, at WESTERN MICHIGAN 66 02/08/2012
AKRON 17-7 (9-1) -- A. Abreu 5-13 3-5 15; B. Walsh 5-7 1-2 12; Z. Marshall 5-9 4-5 14; N. Cvetinovic 0-6 2-2 2; Q. Diggs 2-7 6-7 10; D. Treadwell 4-7 1-1 9; N. Harney 2-8 1-1 5; B. McClanahan 0-5 0-0 0; C. Gilliam 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 24-65 18-23 69. WESTERN MICHIGAN 10-14 (4-6) -- M. Douglas 3-12 9-9 15; D. Ward 3-8 1-1 9; N. Hutcheson 1-9 7-8 9; F. Whitfield 5-8 2-4 12; S. Whittington 4-6 1-1 9; A. Richie 1-5 0-0 2; M. Stainbrook 1-5 3-4 5; D. Loney 1-2 0-0 2; B. Pokley 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 20-57 23-27 66.
Three-point goals: AKR 3-20 (C. Gilliam 0-1; B. Walsh 1-2; B. McClanahan 0-4; N. Cvetinovic 0-3; Z. Marshall 0-1; Q. Diggs 0-2; A. Abreu 2-6; N. Harney 0-1), WMU 3-17 (D. Ward 2-6; B. Pokley 1-2; N. Hutcheson 0-6; A. Richie 0-3); Rebounds: AKR 36 (D. Treadwell 9), WMU 43 (S. Whittington 8); Assists: AKR 11 (A. Abreu 4), WMU 14 (M. Douglas 8); Total Fouls -- AKR 21, WMU 23; Fouled Out: AKR-None; WMU-S. Whittington.