CLEVELAND -- Quincy Diggs scored a career-high 18 points, Brett McClanahan added 14 and Akron held off Western Michigan's second-half surge for a 79-68 semifinal win Friday night to reach the Mid-American Conference final for the fifth straight year.
Tempers flared in the final minutes when Western Michigan's Mike Douglas lost his composure. He first slapped Akron's Steve McNees in the back of the head while trying to make a steal and then nudged the Zips' Darryl Roberts with his forehead with 1:19 left.Roberts, who stepped in to defend his teammate, was also given a technical.One day after blowing a 20-point, second-half lead and needing two overtimes to down Miami (Ohio), the Zips (22-12) let the Broncos pull within four, 67-63, with 1:55 left, but a clutch 3-pointer by McClanahan -- his fourth -- put Akron up by seven.Demetrius Ward scored 22 points -- 20 in the second half -- for Western Michigan (20-12).Akron opened a 14-point halftime lead that Western Michigan couldn't trim under double digits for most of the second half. But the Zips began forcing shots and missing them, and Ward took it upon himself to rally the MAC West champion Broncos.His two free throws got them within four, but McClanahan's big bucket gave the Zips some breathing room before the incident involving Douglas. Akron made three of four free throws after the two technicals and was able to hold on despite making just 16 of 25 free throws.There were a few other tense moments before the final horn as players on both teams jawed at each other, but they shook hands afterward and left the floor without any more trouble.Diggs, a reserve guard, made all six shots but had one imperfection: a technical foul that led to him fouling out. Roberts added 16 points for the Zips.Nate Hutcheson had 12 rebounds for Western Michigan.Akron didn't show any fatigue after playing 50 minutes on Thursday. The Zips were quicker to the ball on both ends, but it was their defense that made the biggest impact. Western Michigan shot only 31 percent from the field, and even when one of the Broncos was able to get free for a shot, one of the Zips usually had a hand in his face.Akron opened up firing from deep.The Zips made their first three 3-pointers, but it was a conventional three-point play by Diggs on a strong layup that capped a 17-4 spurt and gave Akron a 23-10 lead.Western Michigan cut it to 9, but had to work for every bucket as Akron's switching man-to-man defense completely shut down the Broncos' transition game.Diggs' 3-pointer -- Akron's seventh in the first 20 minutes -- gave the Zips a 41-27 halftime lead.This time, they didn't give it all away.