Ohio beats Akron 64-63 for MAC title
By TOM WITHERS
CLEVELAND (AP) D.J. Cooper scored 23 points and Ohio had to nervously wait through a TV replay in the final seconds before beating Akron 64-63 in the championship of the Mid-American Conference tournament on Saturday night.
Ohio (27-7), which set a school record for wins, crowned its season by getting the MAC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.
The Zips (22-11) nearly rallied from eight points down in the final minutes. Akron thought it may have tied it at 64 with 3.1 seconds left on a tipped free throw. But the officials reviewed the videotape at the scorer's table and determined the free throw had dropped in without being touched by anyone.
Cooper was fouled with 2 seconds left. The tournament's most outstanding player missed the first free throw, and then intentionally missed the second.
Akron's Quincy Diggs flung a desperation shot from 60 feet that wasn't close and pandemonium erupted on Ohio's side of Quicken Loans Arena.
Cooper made four 3-pointers and added six assists and four steals in 36 minutes.
As is almost always the case, the MAC final had some craziness and controversy. In the past, there have been last-second shots, clock malfunctions and punches exchanged after the final horn.
This one will be remembered for a free throw Abreu made that he tried to miss.
With Ohio leading 64-61, Abreu went to the line with 3.1 seconds left with a chance to pull the Zips within one. The sophomore guard dropped his first attempt to make it 64-62. He intended to miss the second one, hoping to get a rebound and possible tying putback.
He shot it high in the air with a ton of backspin, but the ball hit the back of the rim, bounced off the front and then the back again before dropping through.
When the scoreboard clock showed: Akron 64, Ohio 64, the Zips' fans erupted thinking the intentional miss had somehow been tipped in.
But after a lengthy discussion and several looks at the replay monitor, the officiating crew determined the ball had gone through on its own - to the relief of the Bobcats and their fans.
Cooper could have given Ohio a three-point cushion, but he missed his two free throws, firing the second one long on purpose.
When Diggs' fling sailed wide, Ohio's players raced around the floor in celebration, their NCAA tourney dreams fulfilled.
Cooper's 3-pointer with 4:19 left to put Ohio ahead 59-52 was the game's biggest shot.
With the 35-second shot clock winding down, Cooper got the ball at the top of the key and was guarded closely by Akron's Nikola Cvetinovic. Cooper used a ball fake to create some space and then ducked underneath Cvetinovic, shot-putting the ball toward the basket as the horn sounded.
It dropped, and Cooper stared at Ohio's bench as if to say, "You had any doubt?"
Even Cvetinovic threw his arms in the air in disbelief.
Baltic followed with a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 62-54 and the Bobcats appeared to be in line to win their sixth MAC title.
But Diggs made a 3-pointer in rhythm from the right wing, and the Zips scored seven straight to close to 62-61 on Marshall's layup with 1:42 to play.
With the conference's NCAA bid up for grabs, the Bobcats and Zips scrapped for everything. Bodies hit the floor, elbows flew near chins and there was some rough stuff on nearly every possession.
In a balanced conference where everyone beats everyone, Akron has been the MAC's one constant in recent years. The Zips were appearing in their sixth straight title game, a league record and the nation's second-longest streak, behind only Gonzaga, which made it to 15 consecutive West Coast Conference finals.
Updated March 10, 2012