Akron returns to MAC title game with 73-62 win over W. Michigan
CLEVELAND (AP)—Chris McKnight scored 16 points as Akron got back to the Mid-American Conference title game for the second straight year with a 73-62 win over Western Michigan in a rough-and-tumble semifinal on Friday night.
The Zips, beaten by Miami of Ohio on a controversial buzzer-beating shot in last year’s tournament championship, avenged a 22-point loss to the Broncos last month. Now, they’ll get a chance to play for their first NCAA tourney appearance since 1986.
Akron will meet top-seeded Kent State in Saturday’s championship for the MAC’s automatic NCAA bid.
Cedric Middleton added 13 points and Jeremiah Wood had 12 for the Zips, who shot 59 percent from the floor and made their free throws down the stretch.
Joe Reitz led the Broncos with 19 points and David Kool had 17.
From the opening tip, the teams traded elbows, hard fouls and stares. At one point, the officials had to step in and separate players before things escalated.
Two of Western Michigan’s assistant coaches played for the Zips. One of them is Andy Hipsher, whose father, Dan, was fired at Akron in 2004 and replaced by current coach Keith Dambrot.
Leading by 13 at halftime, Akron stayed comfortably ahead with a patient inside-outside game. Anytime the Broncos made a run, the Zips answered with one of their own.
Western Michigan was able to trim a 14-point deficit to eight in the final two minutes, and the Broncos had the ball with a chance to get closer, but couldn’t knock down a shot and Akron was able to put it away at the free-throw line.
Bodies were flying all over the floor during an intense first half that could have been played at nearby Cleveland Browns Stadium. Akron’s Nick Dials had his lip bloodied in one skirmish and Western’s Andrew Hershberger was a little wobbly after some contact underneath.
The Zips’ outside shooting allowed them to open up some distance from the Broncos in the opening 20 minutes. Middleton made three 3-pointers and Brett McKnight, Chris’ younger brother, and Matt Linhart hit one apiece as Akron opened a 37-24 halftime lead.