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CLEVELAND, Ohio – University of Akron men's basketball junior Antino Jackson (Houston, Texas) accounted for 11 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including seven consecutive points in a key stretch late in the contest to propel the Zips (26-7) to a wire-to-wire 74-70 triumph over Ball State (21-12) in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Friday, March 10, at Quicken Loans Arena.
The victory sends Akron into the championship game for the ninth time in the last 11 campaigns against the winner of the showdown between second-seeded Ohio and sixth-seeded Kent State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The tilt will be televised by ESPN2.
Leading by only four, 58-54, Antino Jackson connected on fade-away three pointer with 5:10 remaining to push Akron's lead to seven, 61-54.
Tahjai Teague answered with a triple at the other end to make the score, 61-57, before Antino Jackson delivered a driving lay-up followed by a picturesque up-and-under reverse lay-up to give the Zips a 65-57 advantage at the 3:56 mark.
Antino Jackson's 17th point of the evening on the lay-up at the 4:17 mark allowed him to become the 43rd player in Akron men's basketball history to reach the 1,000-point scoring plateau and 13th under head coach Keith Dambrot.
The Cardinals continued to chip away at their deficit whittling the margin to three, 70-67, following a Taylor Persons triple mark with 37.7 seconds remaining.
Akron garnered key free throws from sophomore Jimond Ivey (Cleveland, Ohio) with 31 ticks on the clock, before redshirt freshman Daniel Utomi (Houston, Texas) sealed the victory with a pair of charity tosses with 10 seconds to play.
Antino Jackson shared top scoring honors in the tilt with senior Isaiah Johnson (Cincinnati, Ohio) as the Zips' duo each registered 19-point scoring efforts, while senior Kwan Cheatham, Jr. (Cincinnati, Ohio) added 11 points. Teague paced Ball State with a career-high 19 points, while Francis Kiapway and Jeremie Tyler contributed 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Akron concluded its semifinal triumph connecting on nearly 52 percent (.519) of its shots from the floor, including making eight three pointers, three which came in the second half. Ball State posted a 41.9 percent shooting mark, while dialing long distance for 13 three pointers.
The Cardinals outrebounded the Zips, 34-31, including a 9-5 margin on the offensive end. Ivey crafted an all-around effort for Akron pulling down a team-high eight rebounds, while scoring seven points and distributing three assists. Franko House narrowly missed a double-double for Ball State notching a game-high 10 rebounds, while adding nine points.
The Zips turned in a 34-18 margin in points and the paint registered a 13-5 advantage in second-chance points.
Akron registered seven second-half steals, which directly lead to 12 points off turnovers and 20 points in the paint over the final 20 minutes.
Johnson and junior Noah Robotham (Las Vegas, Nev.) paced the Zips with game-high marks in assists, as each garnered five dimes.
The Zips opened the game scoring the first seven points as part of an overall 13-3 run fueled by a trio of three pointers, including a pair from Cheatham.
Akron connected on three of its first four attempts from beyond the arc and led at the first media timeout (15:36), 13-6.
The Zips came out of the stoppage posting four unanswered tallies to assume an 11-point lead, 17-6, on the strength of a jumper by Robotham at the 14:03 mark.
Johnson continued his domination inside the paint twice extending Akron's margin to 10, with lay-ups, before the Zips held a 21-13 spread at the second media timeout with 11:24 left in the half.
Freshman Tavian Dunn-Martin (Huntington, W.Va.) scored the next five points for Akron, including making a three pointer before Antino Jackson added a jumper to give the Zips their largest lead of 12, 28-16, at the 7:27 mark.
The lead grew to 14, 33-19, following a jumper by Robotham and triple from Antino Jackson.
The Cardinals countered with an 8-0 scoring run over a 1:11 stretch to cut Akron's lead to six, 33-27, following a three pointer from Teague with 2:08 remaining before the intermission.
A pair of free throws and a tip-in by Johnson pushed the Zips ahead by 10, 37-27, with 54 seconds left on the clock.
Ball State added a triple by Tyler before Ivey connected on a lay-up before the halftime buzzer to send Akron into the break up 39-30.
The Zips shot nearly 56 percent (.556) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, including making 5-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc. The Cardinals were held to a 35.5 percent overall shooting mark, but were sparked by making seven first-half three pointers.
Johnson directed Akron in the first half with 12 points, five rebounds and three assists, while Teague tallied 12 points for Ball State.
The Zips outrebounded the Cardinals in the opening stanza, 19-13, including 16-9 on the defensive glass. Akron used the margin to post a 14-8 difference in points in the paint.
The Zips scored the opening basket of the second half before Ball State netted seven of the next nine tallies to cut Akron's lead to six, 43-27, at the 14:32 mark. The Zips made just two of their first eight shots of the second half, while committing five turnovers during that span.
After a free throw by Trey Moses, Utomi dialed long distance for a trey to give Akron a 46-38 lead.
The Cardinals answered with a 7-1 run over the next 1:48 to inch within two, 47-45, with 10:31 left in the game.
The Zips countered with a 9-1 scoring surge over the next 2:50. Fueling the run was a triple from Cheatham and back-to-back baskets off turnovers by Antino Jackson and Robotham. Johnson capped the scoring spurt pivoting in the lane for a lay-up to stretch Akron's lead to 10, 56-46, with 7:14 remaining in the game.