CLEVELAND -- Twice denied, Akron is getting a third straight try at a Mid-American Conference championship.
Steve McNees made an NBA-range 3-pointer to key Akron's comeback and the Zips reached their third straight MAC title game with a 63-55 win over top-seeded Bowling Green on Friday night.Akron, which has lost in the final the past two seasons, will play Buffalo in Saturday's championship. The third-seeded Bulls earned their second trip to the title game with a 64-52 win over Ball State in the first semifinal."I'm hoping the third time is a charm," Zips senior forward Nate Linhart said. "I really don't consider it much of anything, if we don't get it done this time."The Zips (22-12) had to rally to offset the shooting of Bowling Green's Nate Miller, who made five 3-pointers and scored 25 of his 27 points in the second half.Brett McKnight scored 14 points, Darryl Roberts had 12 and the Zips went 6-for-6 from the line in the last minute to hang on.The Falcons (19-13), who held a three-point lead with eight minutes left, haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1968.Down by 11 at halftime and eight midway through the second half, the Falcons took their first lead at 43-40 when Darryl Clements drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with one second left on the shot clock and 8:17 remaining. The hoop capped a 13-2 run that included two 3-pointers and a three-point play by Scott Thomas.Falcons coach Louis Orr screamed, "Yeah," after Clements' bucket. Orr slapped hands with his assistants and pumped his fists as his players sprinted past.But the Zips weren't fazed and countered with their own 13-2 spurt, which included a 3-pointer from Brent McKnight and one from Akron's city limits by McNees, who got the ball back on a tap out after a missed free throw.Miller banked in a 3-pointer off the glass to get the Falcons within 53-50, but the Zips showed poise down the stretch as they handled BG's press and knocked down their free throws. Akron outrebounded Bowling Green 43-26.Akron coach Keith Dambrot had to hold his breath every time Miller fired toward the rim."That's one recruit we let get away and he almost did us in," he said.The Falcons shot only 20 percent (5-of-25) from the floor in the first half, missing all six 3-point tries, and fell behind 28-17 at halftime.But Miller finally got a 3 to drop in the opening minute after the break and made two more while scoring 13 of the Falcons' first 15 points in the second half.Akron freshman guard Anthony Hitchens didn't play because he sprained his left ankle in an opening-round win over Toledo. He made his 30th straight on Thursday night in the quarterfinals against Miami (Ohio), but aggravated the injury and couldn't go. McNees started in place of Hitchens.