The top four seeds are left in the 2012 MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament, but that certainly isn’t a bad thing. While everyone loves a great underdog story, match-ups among conference juggernauts are just as compelling.
Kent State and Ohio University advanced to the semifinals on Thursday night, showcasing why the MAC East is operating on an entirely different level this season. By relying on their star players and team speed, the Golden Flashes and Bobcats stayed in the hunt for a trip to the Big Dance.
Here are some notes on Thursday night’s games:
No. 4 Kent State defeats No. 8 Western Michigan, 76-72
For the Kent State Golden Flashes, a victory in the MAC quarterfinals meant avoiding yet another late collapse. After dropping four of their last five games, including a crushing loss against Akron at home, Kent State dug deep as Western Michigan made a late 10-0 run to make things interesting.
Up until that point, Kent State relied on strong ball movement and emphatic above-the-rim moves to establish a comfortable second half lead. Senior forward Justin Greene led the way for the Golden Flashes, scoring 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and adding nine rebounds and four assists. Kent State also enjoyed solid contributions from Chris Evans (13 points), Randal Holt (13 points), and Michael Porrini (Ten points, eight assists, six rebounds).
But none of that stopped Kent State from potentially blowing yet another game. If the Golden Flashes want to advance past the semifinals, they can’t afford to falter down the stretch.
The problems for Western Michigan were compounded in the second half when center Matt Stainbrook was ejected from the game for elbowing Kent State’s Michael Porrini. It looked accidental in every replay, but the officials obviously saw something else. He would leave the game with 10 points.
Mike Douglas, who scored 19 points in Wednesday’s win over Northern Illinois, came up with 11 points and eight assists against the Golden Flashes.
With the win, Kent State notched their 31st win in a row against a MAC West opponent and set up a showdown against bitter rival Akron. The Golden Flashes will face the No. 1 seed Zips at 7 p.m. on Friday.
No. 3 Ohio University defeats No. 7 Toledo, 65-57
Ohio University did not start the game particularly well, but they sure knew how to finish it. After starting 2-17 from the field, the Bobcats relied on their suffocating defense to hold Toledo in check. But saying the first half was disjointed doesn’t even begin to describe it: Ohio entered the break shooting 8-30 (26.7%) and somehow held a 26-24 lead.
The Bobcats managed to find their offense after halftime, opening the second half on an 11-0 run. Ohio was led by junior guard D.J. Cooper, who scored 17 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. Forward Reggie Keely was a force in the paint, adding 13 points and six rebounds of his own.
Toledo never could find its rhythm, as the Bobcats tallied up ten steals and 14 offensive rebounds against the Rockets. It was an especially tough night for Toledo’s Rian Pearson, as the guard went 2-of-7 from the field for eight points.
Ohio used their early second-half run as a springboard, burying Toledo with speed and full-court pressure. It served as evidence as to how the Bobcats managed to finish 24-7 in the regular season and come so close to cracking the Top 25 at one point.
With the win, the Bobcats move on to face No. 2 seed Buffalo at 9:30 p.m. on Friday.