The Bowling Green Falcons invaded James A. Rhodes Arena on Wednesday night in another pivotal Mid-American Conference showdown. The Zips came in hot, riding an 8-game conference winning streak and sitting comfortably atop the MAC table. The Falcons were doing their best to stay up with the top four teams in the Eastern division, as Buffalo, Kent State and Ohio University were poised to start beating each other up during the second round of division play. A win would put the Falcons in line for a first round bye in the MAC Tournament during #ChampionshipFortnight, while a loss would bring the Zips back to the field.
The players to watch in this game were truly polar opposites. For Akron, Zeke Marshall is almost always the X-Factor. When he plays well, the Zips do in turn. When he gets in foul trouble, the Zips struggle. Marshall is seven feet tall, and causes a match-up problem with most MAC teams. Hardly anybody else in the conference has anyone that can contend with that height, much less go back and forth down low against him. In an earlier game against Ohio, Marshall pretty much caused three Bobcats to foul out trying to defend him. He has NBA potential, as evidenced in NBAdraft.net's 2013 mock draft, where he is listed as the 43rd pick.
For Bowling Green, Jordon Crawford is really the catalyst. He is generally listed at 5'6", and is likely the shortest player in the conference. But the overused phrase "what he lacks in height, he makes up for in heart," comes into play here. Crawford is a gamer; a guy who goes 100% on every play. He is one quick fella, and gets his shot off in a snap. He's effective too. This year he's averaging 10.8 points per game on 45% shooting. That's pretty good for a guy who may have trouble seeing over the steering wheel. If you want to see the difference between Marshall and Crawford, check out this picture from the Akron Beacon Journal.
Bowling Green is a 2-3 zone team. Their coach, Luis Orr, is a Jim Boeheim disciple and uses the Syracuse zone model almost exclusively. Akron coach Keith Dambrot knows this, and his game plan to attack the zone was flawless. Early on, the Zips were carving it up. Lay-up after lay-up poured in, and the Zips kept at it. However, the Falcons continued to answer. They were doing what they needed to to keep up with the Zips attack: making shots. Crawford seemed to be in the zone, hitting three big shots after made Akron baskets. The Falcons wouldn't go away, and were only down seven at halftime. Out of the Zips' 43 points, 32 were in the paint. They were shooting 61% and had utterly rendered Orr's zone ineffective.
The Zips have been traditionally a second-half team this year, as they seem to play the first half close and then blow the doors open in the second. The game seemed to be in hand when the Zips' Alex Abreu hit a three to push the lead out to 60-48. While usually this is the point where the lead balloons to 20 for the Zips, that didn't happen. The lead stayed around 10 until about four minutes left in the game, when the Falcons went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to four. After a Marshall free throw, Falcon center Cameron Black made a lay-up to cut the lead to three. What was once a 12 point cushion had been dismantled, and all of a sudden it was a one-possession game. Akron's Brian Walsh then made what may have been the most clutch lay-up of his life, a leaner over a much taller defender that pushed the lead to five. After Walsh made the bucket, I realized that Crawford wasn't even in the lineup. I don't know why (he was not in foul trouble and had 13 points), but freshman Jehvon Clarke was bringing up the ball. He consequently was pressured and turned the ball over, which the Zips converted into a layup and essentially put the game out of reach. After coming through at the free throw stripe, the Zips came away with an 11 point victory. Marshall, by the way, had a great game of 16 points and 7 boards. He really looked like a true performer, and hopefully was a sign of things to come.
The win kept Akron full two games ahead of Buffalo, Ohio, and Kent State in the MAC. The Zips only need to win one of their next three, and they will be the conference champion. But, in a one-bid league, the only thing that matters is the conference tournament. We'll see how well the Zips and Falcons come about during #MACMadness, when anything can happen.
at AKRON 79, BOWLING GREEN 68 02/22/2012
BOWLING GREEN 14-13 (7-6) -- S. Thomas 3-8 2-3 9; A. Calhoun 8-14 2-3 18; D. Brown 4-14 2-2 11; C. Black 2-3 0-0 4; J. Crawford 6-10 0-0 13; J. Clarke 4-11 0-0 9; T. Oglesby 1-4 0-0 2; C. Sealey 1-1 0-0 2; J. Erger 0-0 0-0 0; A. Henderson 0-1 0-0 0; C. Orr 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-66 6-8 68. AKRON 20-8 (12-1) -- A. Abreu 3-7 4-4 12; B. Walsh 5-9 0-0 12; Z. Marshall 5-8 6-8 16; Q. Diggs 1-3 2-2 4; N. Cvetinovic 4-7 4-4 12; N. Harney 2-3 2-2 6; C. Gilliam 2-3 0-0 4; B. McClanahan 1-4 1-2 3; D. Treadwell 5-5 0-0 10; C. Oldham 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-50 19-22 79.
Three-point goals: BGSU 4-18 (S. Thomas 1-4; A. Calhoun 0-2; J. Crawford 1-2; D. Brown 1-5; A. Henderson 0-1; J. Clarke 1-4), AKR 4-15 (C. Gilliam 0-1; B. Walsh 2-4; B. McClanahan 0-3; C. Oldham 0-1; Q. Diggs 0-1; A. Abreu 2-5); Rebounds: BGSU 20 (A. Calhoun 7), AKR 32 (Z. Marshall 7); Assists: BGSU 16 (S. Thomas 7), AKR 19 (A. Abreu 5); Total Fouls -- BGSU 16, AKR 12; Fouled Out: BGSU-None; AKR-None.