MAC crown to be decided, as Rockets challenge Broncos

Mar 15, 2014 - 3:27 PM Cleveland, OH ( - It was a highly contested race all season long in the Mid-American Conference, but it's now down to two teams competing for the conference championship, as the second-seeded Toledo Rockets and the top-seeded Western Michigan Broncos meet in the tournament title game at Quicken Loans Arena.

The winner of this game will receive the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Toledo, which earned a triple-bye into the semifinal round after earning the second overall seed in the MAC, took down Eastern Michigan Friday, 59-44, to advance to the title game. The Rockets have won four straight games entering the championship bout.

Western Michigan played on Friday for the first time in a week, as the Broncos received a triple-bye into the semifinal round as the top overall seed in the league. The Broncos took down Akron, 64-60, in a thrilling overtime contest to advance.

Toledo leads the lengthy all-time series against Western Michigan, 79-58. The two teams met twice during the regular season, with each team winning on its home court. The Rockets won on March 1 in the most recent outing, 96-85, in an overtime battle with the Broncos.

Toledo owned just a four-point lead over Eastern Michigan at the end of the first half in Friday's semifinal contest. The Rockets seriously stepped things up defensively in the second frame, holding the Eagles to just 22.6 percent shooting from the floor and to only 16 points in the period. Toledo used that lack of EMU offense to its advantage, building on its lead for the eventual double-digit victory. Rian Pearson scored 18 points to pace the Rockets in the win, adding nine rebounds to his stat line. Nathan Boothe chipped in 13 points, and Justin Drummond tallied a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Pearson, who entered Friday's game with a 14.3 ppg average, surpassed his scoring total with the 18-point performance. Julies Brown who scored just five points against EMU, came into the semifinal game averaging a team-high 14.8 ppg, with Drummond right behind him at 14.5 ppg. J.D. Weatherspoon was slightly above his 6.7 rpg average Friday night, bringing down seven boards in the semifinal win.

Akron took a commanding lead over Western Michigan by the end of the first half, 34-17, as the Broncos needed to get their legs underneath them once again having not taken the court in seven days. WMU came out in the second half and connected on 44.4 percent of its shot attempts and held Akron to just 33.3 percent shooting, eventually knotting the game and sending it to overtime. In the extra period, the Broncos were just a bit sharper as they edged out a victory. Shayne Whittington topped the Western Michigan squad with 18 points and 13 rebounds for the double-double, also adding four blocked shots to his stat line. Both Connar Tava and David Brown chipped in 16 points for the Broncos, who didn't get a single points from a reserve player in the contest. Brown entered Friday's quarterfinal clash as the team's leading scorer, averaging 19.1 ppg with a team-best 43 steals. Whittington wasn't too far behind, netting 16.1 ppg before the showdown with Akron. Whittington also outdid his rebounding average against the Zips, as the center grabbed 8.8 boards per contest before Friday's match.

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