MAC Tournament Quarterfinal Recap
Ball State 64, Central Michigan 61
An eventful overtime went to the birds. Finally. The Ball State Cardinals (14-16) pulled out a MAC slugfest on the strength of six Laron Frazier overtime points. ”We have three seniors who all stepped up and made the shots to get to the next step,” said Frazier.
The final outcome, 64-61, accurately conveys the tightness of the entire game. For the last 28 minutes neither team led by more than six points.
BSU dropped the final three regular season games, not the way to enter the vital tournament. Two of the three unraveled in OT.
“Overtime is five minutes; there are going to be a lot of possessions,” said BSU Coach Taylor. “We just had to maintain our poise on both ends.”
Frazier led all scorers with 22 points though his teammates Jarrod Jones dumped in 20 for the winning side.
In the loss Central Michigan (12-19) extended its dubious streak of exiting prior to the semifinals. This marks the sixth straight MAC Semifinal without CMU.
Buffalo 65, Kent State 62
For the 9th time this season the Buffalo Bulls (20-10) battled out a tight game. When precision and execution matter most, games decided by three points or less, these Bulls are now 8-1 after edging out the (19-14) Kent State Flashes 65-62.
As an Exacto Knife meticulously dissects photos, so too did Buffalo slice through Kent State’s defense. The screens were strong, the slashes instant, and the shots quite open. Why then did they score just 65 points?
Despite multiple opportunities, season leader Rodney Pierce could not pierce the hearts of the never-hot Flashes. On the day Pierce finished 3-15. The ordinarily reliable guard missed as many shots (12) as Buffalo made in either half. The leading scorer coming in gave way to a bench burst by Max Boudreau.
The former hockey goalie missed his career high by one point, finishing with 13 points. Boudreau credited the “good offensive sets for allowing him to go with the flow.”
The efficiency of Buffalo’s offense only shone a light on the wayward, isolationist sets run by talent-rich Kent State. “When you are going 1-on-1, the other four are watching,” observed Buffalo Head Coach Reggie Witherspoon.
“We just wanted to get back to playing Buffalo basketball, hard-nosed and rebounding,” reminisced victorious Bull Calvin Betts.
Foul-trouble plagued KSU the entire afternoon. The flashes “committed” 25 fouls, in a game that the officials strangled the life out of. Julian Sullinger and Chris Singletary fouled out, the pair managing only 14 floor minutes each. As onlookers, the duo witnessed two embattled scrappy four-guard lineups.
Frontcourt reliever, KSU sub, Anthony Simpson yanked down a dozen rebounds, six on the offensive end. His contributions helped the visiting Flashes snatch their first lead of the game three minutes into the second half.
Simpson’s made free throw put Kent State up 37-36. Intriguingly, the master of the offensive rebound allowed the same to warrior Betts. Betts subsequent putback snatched the decisive lead for Buffalo.
For the first time in 11 years KSU will finish shy of 20 wins, unless of course the Flashes win a CBI contest.
Bowling Green 74, Ohio 61
Bowling Green (19-12) entered the MAC Tournament as the second hottest team, winners of 7 of the last 10 games. The gap might be bigger than the one game separating 1st from 5th in the MAC East.
The Bobcats of Ohio University (15-17) fought and fought, but need some recruits in the next few years to ascend the MAC ranks. First year Coach John Groce, who helped lure Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daquan Cook to Ohio State, aims to change the direction of OU hoops. His first MAC Tournament experience was likely not indicative of years to come.
The opposing Falcons combined nice execution with supreme effort. With the court to himself an hour before tip, Nate Miller reacquainted himself with the floor. Shot from a cannon “Early and Late” Nate scored 12 of BG’s first 14 points.
Miller finished the contest with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
A member of the All-MAC first team, he actually dove twice on one play. When your best player also works the hardest, the effort filters down to all the troops, as it did Thursday for the conquering Falcons.
If Miller is the point of the spear, then Joe Jakubowski is the handle always guiding the attack. Many of Miller’s shots, of which he shot 81%, were markedly easier thanks to JJ’s setup.
“I got to give credit to the guards,” said Miller. “They played like veteran guards today. They put me in a position to score.”
Like a quarterback surveying the field, Jakubowski consistently jettisoned a one-armed pass to an open man. Almost every successful play began with a prudent decision by the sophomore point guard.
“I was looking at his stats, Joe had eight assists and two turnovers,” observed BG forward Erik Marschall. “He played real well.”
Entering the game, Jakubowski stood fourth in assists per game in the MAC. Leaving the floor their remained little doubt which squad owned the best floor leader.
“There were a couple passes that Joe threw into the post that were terrific passes, pin point passes,” said Coach Groce.
The Falcons’ weaponry enabled them to score 70 points, a rarity in 2008-2009. Not one conference team averaged the elusive 70 points per game for the season. In the first seven tournament games only the overtime ramshackle betwixt Akron and Toledo featured another 70+ final score.
Akron 73, Miami (OH) 63
Take a play off and 21-12 Akron will zip right by. In the nightcap of the MAC Quarterfinals, Freshman Kramer Soderberg took one play off.
After Soderberg missed his third shot of the half, he sulked temporarily. Sagging off Akron’s Steve McNees proved to be a monumental mistake. The McNees triple opened up a 60-50 lead. Miami (73-63) fell 73-63, never able to shrink the margin.
Miami Coach Charlie Coles inserted Soderberg, the backup to the backup to the backup point guard, to spell starter Carl Richburg.
“I thought Soderberg had a good first half but he kind of faded as the second half went along,” said Coach Coles.
Richburg was playing because fifth-year senior Eric Pollitz blew out his knee on the 26th of February. Pollitz drew the assignment when senior Kenny Hayes sustained a season-ending wrist injury. Hayes intends to apply for a medical redshirt. That does not help Miami now.
Sophomore McNees nearly brought the massive Akron cheering section to its knees with 14 first half points. Without him Miami (Oh) moves on. “We got beat by a superior team,” said Coach Coles. “All praises to Akron. I like them to win this tournament.”
The play of the day occurred early in the second half. With Miami’s bigs laboring, Akron zipped out on the break. With his weak hand, igniter Darryl Roberts fed streaking Chris McKnight. McKnight finished with a right-handed flush.
“You can see Nate (Linhart) put that extra battery pack on his back and turn it up a notch,” said Akron Coach Keith Dambrot.
Linhart mimed to the crowd “two more” indicating his dreams for the MAC Championship in this his final season.
Friday’s semifinals will pit Ball State against Buffalo followed by Bowling Green and Akron. Aside from all four teams being listed in the first two letters of the alphabet, the quartet is new to this semifinal experience.
Akron has played in the last three semis, while Buffalo, Ball State, and Bowling Green have just one appearance in the last six years combined.