In an all-Buckeye state final, the Akron Zips and Ohio Bobcats will square off for the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship Saturday at 6 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Akron advanced to the title game with a thrilling 66-64 win over Western Michigan Friday night. Chris McKnight’s put-back with 6.8 seconds left sealed the deal for the Zips.
Ohio, meanwhile, rode 28 points from Armon Bassett and 18 from DeVaughn Washington to coast to a 54-42 win over Miami in the other semifinal game Friday.
So the Zips and the Bobcats will face each other for the third time this season, this time for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Akron won the two regular season meetings between the teams. However, Ohio played them evenly in both, losing by five, 67-62, in Athens on Jan. 13, before dropping a double-overtime marathon, 91-88, in Akron on Feb. 14.
Ohio’s stingy defense shut down Miami on Friday, but that won’t be so easy against Akron’s balanced offensive attack.
The Bobcats will continue to look to Bassett, who had a career-high 38 points in the semifinal upset over Kent State. He’s joined in the backcourt by freshman D.J. Cooper, who is searching for consistency in the tournament.
Cooper battled foul trouble in the quarterfinal win, then went 1-for-9 from the field against Miami. However, Cooper came up big in the February loss to the Zips, exploding for 33 points while playing 49 minutes.
Ohio needs Washington to continue his stellar tournament play. The junior forward averaged 10 points and 8.5 rebounds against Akron this year.
The Bobcats could also use a repeat performance from Reggie Keely. Although he played just 10 minutes Friday night, Keely powered his way to 16 points and 20 rebounds against the Zips in February.
Akron will need a return to form by senior forward Jimmy Conyers, who had just eight points and two rebounds in Friday’s win over WMU. Conyers was a force against the Bobcats this season, averaging 18 points and 12.5 rebounds in the Zips’ two wins.
Fellow senior Chris McKnight had 18 points and eight boards Friday. The Zips could use a repeat of his February performance against the Bobcats, when he had 25 points and 18 rebounds in the two-overtime thriller.
McKnight’s brother Brett averaged 13.5 points a game off the bench against Ohio this season.
The Zips will need steady play from their backcourt combination of Anthony “Humpty” Hitchings, who contributed 10 points Friday night, and Steve McNees, who had a huge three-pointer against Eastern Michigan Thursday night.
Keep an eye on Akron’s Zeke Marshall and Ohio’s Kenneth Van Kempen in the pivot. Akron had a big rebounding edge in its February win, while Ohio claimed a slight advantage in the February rematch. Rebounding could be a key to victory in the final.
The tournament championship game will be televised by ESPN2.