CLEVELAND -- On the eve of the 2017 men’s basketball tournament games in Cleveland, the Mid-American Conference announced that University of Akron center Isaiah Johnson had been selected as the MAC Player of the Year.
In leading the top-seeded Zips to the MAC Championship Game for the second straight year, Johnson has lived up to the billing, scoring 24 and 19 points, respectively in wins over Eastern Michigan and Ball State to earn a third game of the season against the Kent State Golden Flashes.
In the win over Ball State, Johnson scored two late baskets that proved critical for the Zips (26-7) to hold on for the victory.
“I would say yeah, I got a little tired there at the end and just being able to muster up the strength to be able to go ahead and finish both of those shots really just boosted not only myself, but the team,” Johnson said.
“Any player will tell you they love having the ball in those situations, to be able to right the ship for your team. I just wanted to get the ball, just try to make the right play, whatever that may be, whether it’s a layup or pass it out if the double team came.”
Akron battles Ball State in the MAC Tournament Semifinals
With the Zips clinging to a three-point lead, 65-62, and Ball State beginning to heat up from long distance with 2:11 to play in regulation, Johnson called for the ball in the low post and helped stretch out the Akron advantage.
First, Johnson converted a layup, which turned into a three-point play after he was fouled in the act of shooting. Then, on the next trip down the floor, the Zips again went to Johnson, and he responded with another layup that gave Akron a 70-64 lead with 1:09 to play.
“We’ve been simple most of the season,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “We haven’t defended well most of the season. When I mean simple, just get the big guy the ball. I mean, like just get him the ball.
“I don’t care if it’s at the top of the key, the low block, the elbow, just get him the ball and play off of him, and quit messing around trying to do things yourself. That’s what I mean. I don’t think it’s a complicated sport. I think people make it complicated.”
Over 29.9 minutes of action in 33 starts for the Zips, Johnson averaged 16.5 points, 2.9 assists and 7.4 rebounds, including nearly three per game on the offensive end of the floor, all of which were team-highs this season.
Additionally, he has a 1.3 assists-to-turnovers ratio and shooting percentage of .630, converting better than six field goals a game. The .630 field goal percentage ranks No. 1 in the MAC and ninth nationally.
“If you’ve got a guy like that, that can score, if they don’t double him and can pass if they do double him, and you surround him with shooters, it seems to me the easiest thing to do is throw him the ball and play off of him instead of coming off of ball screens or trying to play one on one,” Dambrot said.