23-12, 9-7 Conf

Defensive stand gives Akron MAC title over Kent St. in OT

CLEVELAND -- With yet another mad, mad, MAC finish added to his coaching resume, Akron's Keith Dambrot could only shake his head.

"I guess I'm a magnet for them," he said.

The Zips, who have come out on the wrong end of wild Mid-American Conference title games before, are moving on to the NCAA tournament.

By their finger tips.

Steve McNees blocked Carlton Guyton's desperation 3-point attempt in the last second, capping a heartstopping final few minutes and giving Akron a 66-65 overtime win against archrival Kent State on Saturday night for its second tournament title.

This was nothing new for Akron, which was playing in its fifth straight title game. In 2007, the Zips lost to Miami (Ohio) on a controversial buzzer-beater in a finish that included a problem with the game clock. Last year, they fell in overtime to ninth-seeded Ohio.

"We had the clock malfunctions and then we had the million overtimes," Dambrot said. "Tonight we were lucky. The ball bounced our way."

McNees, whose outside shooting in the first half kept the Zips in the game, stretched out and got his right hand on Guyton's long shot as the final horn sounded. It was Akron's 15th block, and it gave the Zips (23-12) their second MAC title in three years.

Afterward, Akron players poured onto the court, and during the celebration Kent State's Michael Porrini was inadvertently stepped on by a bouncing group of Zips as he tried to get up from the floor. Coaches from both teams had to separate players and security rushed onto the court as streamers fell from the ceiling and the championship trophy was being wheeled out.

The victory capped a turbulent season for Akron, which was a disappointing 12-10 despite having one of the league's most experienced rosters. But the Zips showed resiliency, survived a double-overtime game in the quarterfinals and are in the NCAA field for just the third time in school history.

"This team went through more struggles than any team I've ever had," said Dambrot. "This one really feels good because of everything we've gone through."

Senior Brett McKnight scored 15 points and it was his two free throws with 12.8 seconds left that put the Zips ahead 66-65 and set up another furious finish to the MAC's finale.

Guyton scored 14 and Justin Greene, the league's player of the year, had 14 before fouling out for the Golden Flashes (23-11), who missed 11 of 23 free throws.

"It was a bad night to shoot 50 percent from the foul line," Kent State coach Geno Ford said. "It's tough. It's going to take some time to get over this. We had such a great season. I don't want our kids to lose sight of that."

The crazy, climactic seconds ended another heated game between the bitter rivals, whose campuses are just 14 miles apart.

McKnight shot an airball on his previous free throw attempt before stepping to the line with his team's tournament future in his hands.

The senior, who was suspended earlier this season, then calmly knocked down both.

"He shot an airball and then hit the two free throws to win the game," Ford said. "If you've ever played basketball, you know how much toughness it takes to do that."

Kent State was out of timeouts and rushed the ball up the floor. Rodriquez Sherman drove the lane, but had his shot swatted away by Akron's 7-foot center, Zeke Marshall -- his ninth block.

"I think he affected 400 shots," Dambrot said of his big man. "He changed the entire game."

The loose ball ended up in the hands of Guyton, who had to rush to get off his shot that was tipped away by McNees' fingers.

"That's about the eighth block in my life," McNees said.

If not for McNees' hot hand, the Zips might have been done at halftime.

The do-whatever-it-takes senior made four 3-pointers and scored 14 in the first 20 minutes for Akron, which missed 10 of its first 11 shots and fell behind by 11. McNees closed the half with back-to-back 3s, giving Akron its first lead at 33-31.

"He knows what it takes to win," McKnight said of his teammate. "Before the game we looked at each other and said, 'We're going to get this done."

The victory was especially sweet for Dambrot, the fiery coach who has been criticized for not being able to win big games. Last summer, his 80-year-old father fell ill and nearly died. He has since recovered and Dambrot has an upcoming trip planned for his dad.

"I'm going to grab his butt and take him to the NCAA tournament," he said.