Zips heading to Big Dance

“CLEVELAND: For the first time in 23 years, the University of Akron men’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament, after defeating the University at Buffalo Bulls 65-53 to claim its first-ever Mid-American Conference Tournament championship. Entering the MAC Tournament as the fifth seed, UA became the first team in the tournament’s 10-year history to not earn a bye in the first round and win four consecutive games for the title.”

CLEVELAND: For the first time in 23 years, the University of Akron men’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament, after defeating the University at Buffalo Bulls 65-53 to claim its first-ever Mid-American Conference Tournament championship.

Entering the MAC Tournament as the fifth seed, UA became the first team in the tournament’s 10-year history to not earn a bye in the first round and win four consecutive games for the title.

That championship was for all the guys who have had the heart aches, UA head coach Keith Dambrot said, referring to the former Zips who came so close to winning a championship the past few years. Those guys really worked hard to make this a really good program. These guys just carried it on.

UA sophomores Brett McKnight and Steve McNees were named to the 2009 MAC Tournament All-Tournament Team and Zips senior forward Nate Linhart was named the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

I’m so proud of everything about this team, Linhart said. I don’t know if it’s because we’re so young and dumb or what it is, but we never know when to quit when we should be down and out.

McNees was forced into the starting lineup the last three games of the Tournament because freshman starting point guard Anthony Humpty Hitchens suffered an ankle injury in the first round game against Toledo.

The Zips (23-12) used one of their strongest shooting outings of the season and a stout defensive effort to maintain a sizable lead for most of the game.

UA shot 55.3 percent (21-of-38) from the field for the game, connecting on 8-of-14 from behind the arc.

The Zips held the Bulls (21-11 to 36.7 percent shooting from the field by focusing their defensive attention on UB guards Calvin Betts, Greg Gamble and Rodney Pierce.

I think a lot of people let their guards go crazy, Dambrot said. We kind of rolled the dice and said, ‘OK, look, we’re gonna make sure we cover their guards and their big people are going to have to beat us’.

UA’s hot shooting help to limit the MAC’s best rebounding team. The Bulls ) outrebounded the Zips 34-to-27, but UB tallied only seven assists and turned the ball over 15 times.

UA tallied 11 assists and the same number of miscues.

What got us here was our defense and rebounding, UB head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. They didn’t miss a lot and we couldn’t defend them. It breaks down everything we’re doing.

Brett McKnight led four Zips in double figures with a game-high 16 points. Chris McKnight scored 12 points, and Hitchens and Darryl Roberts each added 10 points.

Pierce led the Bulls in scoring with 12 points.

The Zips will learn their seed and opponent for next week’s NCAA Tournament when the brackets are released on CBS tonight at 6 p.m.

Check back frequently in the coming days for continuing coverage of the Zips’ NCAA Tournament run.


“#1.1360475:924233397.jpg:Linhart-Buchtelite.jpg:UA gets auto-bid to NCAA Tourney:Jeff Harwell-Zips Sports Photography”