I apologize for getting this recap up so late. It wasn't until yesterday until I had totally gotten over the outcome of this game, which you'll see why in my next post. As an unabashed Akron fan and Northeastern Ohio sports fan, losing big games just becomes the norm. The only true national success that The University of Akron's athletic programs have had was the men's soccer team's national championship season in 2010 (we also had a national champion in rifle). Then you look at Northeastern Ohio as a whole. The Cleveland Browns are the Cleveland Browns. Poor talent, poor management, and a poor attitude lead to the team underachieving every year. The Cavs, until you-know-who left, truly epitomized the area. The Wine and Gold featured blue collar, tough, gritty players who weren't overly talented but had the heart to get them wins (plus a little help from that one guy). The Indians seem to be more and more like the real-life portrayal of the movie "Major League." Disappointingly, Willie Mays Hayes is not starting in center field. 1948 was the last time any Cleveland team has won a major championship. That's only a couple of years after World War II ended.
This has been my sports fan-dom for my twenty-two years on this green and blue sphere they call Earth. Unfortunately, I wasn't lucky enough to grow up in a big market, like Boston or New York, where one team wins a major championship every year. It's agonizingly frustrating, and can honestly drag a person down. Northeastern Ohio fans are some of the most loyal fans there are. Browns fan keep coming back to watch a talent-ridden team score thirteen points a game every single time. Northeastern Ohioans know how to keep their heads up. The motto always seems to ring out "wait until next year," which actually is the name for a very popular blog about Cleveland sports.
In relation to the Buffalo-Akron game, the common characteristic is the theme of missed opportunities. The Browns are probably only second to the Buffalo Bills in heartbreaking losses, and the names bring a rush of all the memories back. The Fumble. The Drive. Red Right 88. Even though I wasn't born when these events occurred, I still hear about them every week and see them on Sportscenter. The Indians feature the same types of stories. Jose Mesa's collapse in the 1997 World Series. Giving away a 3-1 series lead in the ALCS against the Red Sox ten years later. As for the Cavs, remember "Shot on Ehlo, THE BULLS WIN, THEY WIN!" Yeah, that stings. (And, yes, I realized I just brought all of this back up to Cleveland fans. Sorry.) Imagine if just one of these unfortunate endings would have gone a different way. Cleveland, as a sports town, would hopefully stop being the butt of everyone's jokes. "The Mistake on the Lake" moniker would be crushed. Just once, the fans want to see a champion. It's in their blood.
The Zips came into this game needing to win one of the next two games to clinch the Mid-American Conference Championship and the #1 seed in the MAC tournament. Seeing as the next game was at Kent State on Senior Night, it looked as if the Zips needed to pull this one off to win the title. Akron was in the midst of the toughest part of their schedule. They had already lost big at third-place Ohio, and were preparing to face second-place Buffalo and fourth-place Kent State. And, from the look in their eyes, they knew the pressure was on.
Buffalo is a very good team. They feature arguably the best frontcourt in the MAC, with the duo of Mitchell Watt (aptly nicknamed Mitchell SWatt due to his impressive 2.5 blocks per game) and Javon McCrea, a built big man with NBA potential. They knew that they could play the role of spoiler in this game, and their play really showed that.
The first half was pretty uneventful. The lead never got to more than six (a 29-23 Zips advantage), and the Bulls only faced a four point deficit at halftime. The Zips must have been right where the Bulls wanted them, and the early part of the second half exposed that. Buffalo quickly jumped out on an 11-2 run, while the Zips committed four turnovers during this time. Now, it was the Bulls who had all of the momentum and the Zips who started to play not-to-lose basketball. With eleven minutes left, the game was tied at fifty, and it looked to be a battle for the MAC title in the last ten minutes. But, like every other Northeastern Ohio team, the Zips couldn't get the job done. While it was close, they never were able to take the lead and were singly closed out by Bulls guard Tony Watson II, who scored the last nine points of the game for the Bulls.
The loss put the Zips in a backs-against-the-wall situation. They had to beat Kent State, and if they didn't, they would lose the #1 seed to Buffalo and lose more importantly the automatic bid to the NIT. Having an 0-3 record the week going into the MAC Tournament would also be deflating, and the season would almost seem to be a failure.
BUFFALO 74, at AKRON 70 02/29/2012
BUFFALO 17-9 (11-4) -- M. Watt 11-15 0-1 22; Z. Filzen 3-11 0-0 8; J. Oldham 0-3 0-0 0; D. Barnett 4-7 0-1 9; J. McCrea 6-11 1-3 13; T. Watson II 3-5 6-6 14; T. Robinson 2-4 4-5 8; A. Nuiriankh 0-0 0-0 0; C. Downing 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-56 11-16 74. AKRON 20-10 (12-3) -- A. Abreu 4-7 7-8 18; Q. Diggs 0-3 0-0 0; Z. Marshall 2-6 6-8 10; B. Walsh 4-5 2-2 10; N. Cvetinovic 5-9 0-0 11; D. Treadwell 5-13 1-4 11; B. McClanahan 1-3 0-0 3; N. Harney 3-5 0-0 7; C. Gilliam 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-54 16-22 70.
Three-point goals: BUFF 5-17 (Z. Filzen 2-7; M. Watt 0-1; D. Barnett 1-3; T. Watson 2-4; J. Oldham 0-1; J. McCrea 0-1), AKR 6-19 (C. Gilliam 0-2; B. Walsh 0-1; B. McClanahan 1-3; N. Cvetinovic 1-2; Q. Diggs 0-3; A. Abreu 3-6; N. Harney 1-1; D. Treadwell 0-1); Rebounds: BUFF 30 (D. Barnett 8), AKR 28 (D. Treadwell 6); Assists: BUFF 18 (Z. Filzen 4), AKR 15 (A. Abreu 6); Total Fouls -- BUFF 18, AKR 20; Fouled Out: BUFF-None; AKR-None.