CLEVELAND -- Basketball, particularly in tournament play, is a game of runs, and the top-seeded Akron Zips men’s basketball team proved that old adage to be true against the Eastern Michigan Eagles in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena Thursday.
In less than a minute, the Zips turned a four-point lead against a surging Eagles team into an 11-point edge and never looked back, hustling their way to a 79-62 win to advance to the semifinals of the MAC Tournament for the 12th straight season.
“We felt we would be in position to win had we followed the game plan for 40 minutes, but anytime you deviate from that game plan for any moment of the game when you're playing a championship level team, (it) can cost you, and I thought that's what happened for us,” Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said.
After a slow start in which they made only two of their first seven looks from the field and one of three attempts from the free-throw line, the top-seeded Zips found a rhythm offensively, settled down on the defensive rebounds and rode that momentum to a 79-62 win over the No. 8-seeded Eastern Michigan Eagles at Quicken Loans Arena Thursday afternoon.
Senior center Isaiah Johnson led the way for the Zips (25-7) with 24 points on eight-of-14 shooting from the field coupled with an eight-of-14 showing at the free-throw line. The 2017 MAC Player of the Year, Johnson added 10 rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and one steal over 37 minutes of play.
“For about a two to-three minute stretch in the first half and maybe a four to-five minute stretch in the second half, we deviated from our game plan and they made us pay for it and they were able to get a good lead,” Murphy said.
With a pair of free throws from guard Ray Lee, the Eagles trimmed the Zips’ lead down to four points, 57-53, with 5:10 to play in regulation. However, Akron jumpstarted a rally and never looked back.
After pulling down an offensive rebound followed a missed layup, Akron senior center Isaiah Johnson went back up toward the rim and drew a foul. The 2017 MAC Player of the Year knocked down both free throws, and then, guard Jimond Ivey stole a pass and converted the ensuing layup.
Akron guard Josh Williams followed with a steal, and then, buried a three-pointer from the left wing that ballooned the Zips’ advantage up to 11 points in a span of just 54 seconds.
“Once you get it that close and you don't deliver and you're playing against a good basketball team, more times than not, you're going to come out on the losing side,” Murphy said. “Thought our guys competed at a high level from start to finish, but I thought our turnovers got the best of us and their second chance opportunities really hurt us.
“Give a lot of credit to Akron. They're a very good basketball team for a reason, and they were able to make the necessary plays throughout the second half to win the basketball game.”
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