MEN'S BASKETBALL: Bobcats dance into NCAA Tournament
Ohio upsets Akron in overtime for MAC Tournament title
CLEVELAND – Armon Bassett lifted the Mid-American Conference Tournament trophy aloft on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena. He clutched it as he climbed the stairs to the postgame press conference. He practically hid behind it while answering questions.
No one was taking the trophy away from the Ohio University shooting guard after he carried his team to its first conference title in six years. The ninth-seeded Bobcats finished their improbable run to the NCAA Tournament with an 81-75 upset in overtime of the University of Akron in the MAC Tournament final Saturday night.
Bassett said only coach John Groce would be able to pry the hardware away from him.
"Maybe when coach takes it from me," he said. "I've got a tight grip on it."
The grip wasn't always so tight.
The Bobcats almost didn't even make the trip to Cleveland for the quarterfinals. Ohio trailed Ball State by 10 points with just more than 10 minutes to play in Muncie. But Ohio pulled out its opening-round game in overtime, and ran through a gauntlet of top-seeded Kent State University, archrival Miami University and defending champion Akron to snag the title.
"We did have a tough road," Groce said. "We were fortunate to win on the road. That's not easy to do in this league."
Bassett said even deep in a hole at Ball State, he knew a run to the NCAA Tournament was possible.
"The last half of the season, we grew up so much," he said. "A month ago we would have blown a game like that, but the chemistry is at such a high level right now."
Bassett blew away the MAC Tournament record book this week. The junior was crowned tournament MVP after setting the tournament record with 116 points. Bassett broke former Eastern Michigan University star Earl Boykins record of 91.
Bassett scored a game-high 25 points Saturday. He punctuated the performance with a two-handed dunk at the end of overtime, as a large contingent of Bobcat fans exploded across the arena.
Akron hung tough throughout the game, despite shooting 35.9 percent from the field. Coach Keith Dambrot said the Zips were getting good attempts, but simply couldn't convert.
"I thought we had some good shots, we just didn't make any," he said.
The Zips only sent the game to overtime with a deep 3-pointer from Steve McNees, tying the game at 68.
But Akron never got the upper hand in overtime, and lost its third MAC Tournament Championship Game in four years. The Zips will have to hope for a bid to the NIT or College Basketball Invitational, while the Bobcats watch the selection show with their fans.
"We'd love to share it with our community, our student body and the university at large," Groce said.