Cleveland, OH- The number one seed and heavily favored Akron Zips marched into Cleveland expecting a big win over the Eastern Michigan Eagles. However, Eastern Michigan showed that they meant business and would not be trounced on.
Eastern Michigan would get the first points of the day with an easy layup underneath from James Thompson. Akron would quickly follow with a three from senior forward Reggie McAdams and the frantic pace of MAC Tournament basketball was quickly underway.
The Zips offense seemingly could not get anything going, forcing them to be stuck at just three points heading into the first media timeout, trailing 9-3 with fifteen minutes to go in the first half.
The Eagles continued to control the pace throughout the mid-point of the first half, however the Zips would pick up some much needed momentum following a monster block from Isaiah Johnson, the MAC’s sixth man of the year recipient, on Tim Bond’s driving layup.
The Zips would struggle to find the mark from downtown, something new to the Zips who had the third most three-point field goal attempts in the NCAA during the year. The Zips, only going 2-12 from the field at the eight-minute mark, were well short of their 39.4 percent mark in the regular season.
Akron point guard Noah Robotham would help boost that stat, nailing a triple to cut the Eagles lead to just one at 18-17.
The Zips would grab the lead once again for the first time since the very start of the game following a Johnson finish underneath, giving the Zips a 24-23 lead.
Akron senior forward Jake Kretzer would go down with an apparent chest injury with one minute to go in the half, but would bounce back up and be ok. Kretzer has struggled with a heart condition during his time with the Zips.
Towards the end of the half, Eastern Michigan’s Raven Lee caught Akron guard Josh Williams with an elbow to the face, rendering a flagrant one foul against him. The Zips entered the half leading 35-32, shooting just 36% from the floor and 27% from downtown.
Eagle’s guard Willie Mangum was finally able to get things going and went on his own little 5-0 run to start the half, giving the Eagles a 37-35 edge.
The Eagles would continue to haunt the Zips with their zone defense, forcing Akron to take deep contested threes and make poor post entry passes. An outraged Keith Dambrot, Akron’s head coach, was forced to call a timeout with thirteen minutes to go to halt the 15-3 run.
Isaiah Johnson got the Zips back on track, finishing nicely over two defenders on back to back possessions, cutting into the Eagles lead.
An electric 9-0 run from the Zips, capped off by a Reggie McAdams triple cut the lead to three and had the Akron faithful on their feet and loud for the first time all game.
A huge three from Robotham finally gave the Zips the advantage at 62-61 with fifty seconds to play. A pair of free throws from the Eagles and a Johnson layup for Akron gave the Zips a one-point advantage with just sixteen seconds to play.
A missed driving layup from Raven Lee led to a fast break for the Zips and a missed layup from Josh Williams. However, after getting the rebound, Tim Bond of the Eagles called a timeout. The Eagles had no timeouts remaining, resulting in a technical foul.
Robotham sunk his free throw, and a half court heave from Willie Mangum sailed wide, giving the Zips a 65-63 win.
“Basically the whole game I challenged their adversity,” coach Dambrot said. “We don’t want to shoot any shot not on the break without Big Dog (Isaiah Johnson) touching it.”
“We’ve been in those games before,” Reggie McAdams said. “it shows tremendous character by our teammates.”
Leading the way for the Zips were McAdams with 20 points, along with Johnson who poured in 19. Raven Lee and James Thompson led the way for the Eagles with 23 and 15 points respectively.
The Zips will advance to the semifinals, where they were eliminated last year, and play the winner of Central Michigan and Bowling Green on Friday.