Akron 82, Central Michigan 53
CLEVELAND (AP)—Romeo Travis scored 16 points and Akron bettered its NCAA chances while moving into the Mid-American Conference tournament semifinals for the second time with an 82-53 win over Central Michigan on Thursday night.
With close friend and former high school teammate LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers watching from a loge, Travis, the MAC’s player of the year, powered the Zips (25-6) to their 16th win in 18 games.
Last season, Akron lost to Toledo in its first appearance in the semis. The Zips will play Kent State in Friday’s second semifinal for a shot at the MAC’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Akron beat Kent State 66-64 in overtime on Sunday to clinch the MAC East title.
The Zips haven’t played on college basketball’s biggest stage since 1986.
Nick Dials shook off a sprained ankle and added 11 points for Akron, which shot 61 percent (30-of-49) from the floor. Jeremiah Wood made all five shots and added 11 and Dru Joyce, another of James’ close friends, had 10 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
Giordan Watson, who lit up Buffalo for a career-high 34 points on Wednesday, was held to just 12 for the Chippewas (13-18). Harassed all over the floor by Joyce and others, Watson was only 3-of-12 from the floor and he didn’t get much help as the Chippewas only shot 31 percent.
Up by 11 points at halftime, the Zips didn’t need much time to reserve a spot in the semifinals.
They opened the second half with a 16-3 run highlighted by 3-pointers from Dials and Joyce to take a 55-31 lead.
With his team comfortably ahead, Akron coach Keith Dambrot had the luxury of resting his starters, who will have to win three games in three days for the title.