March 11, 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) Akron fed the Big Dog on its way to the Mid-American Conference championship.

Isaiah Johnson bulled his way for 23 points and the top-seeded Zips advanced to the MAC Tournament title game with an 80-66 semifinal win over No. 12 seed Bowling Green on Friday night.

Johnson, a burly 6-foot-10 junior called ''Big Dog'' by his teammates, scored 11 straight points during one stretch in the second half as the Zips (26-7) moved into the final for the eighth time in 10 years.

Akron will play No. 3 seed Buffalo in Saturday's championship for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Jake Kretzer scored 15 and Reggie McAdams added 14 for the Zips, one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams. But instead of launching from long range, Akron went inside to Johnson whenever it needed a basket.

''Once we throw it into Big Dog we're doing a better job of screening away and cutting into the middle of the hole,'' Kretzer said. ''Whenever they double (team), it's tough because Dog has to crab out of it, and then if someone cuts to the middle lane, they are usually wide open.''

Freshman Antwon Lillard scored 12 and Spencer Parker 11 for the Falcons (16-18), who upset Kent State and Central Michigan to make their first semifinal since 2009.

Bowling Green was still within eight before McAdams scored and Antino Jackson hit a 3-pointer with 4:08 left to put Akron ahead by 13.

The Zips needed to rally late to beat Eastern Michigan in the semifinals. Following the comeback, Akron coach Keith Dambrot said if Johnson ''can get himself in better condition, he'll become one of the best centers in America.''

The junior from Cincinnati was more than a handful for the Falcons, who were unable to keep the 295-pounder from the getting the ball in the paint. He finished 9 of 11 from the field.

Akron was up 53-52 when the Zips decided to run their offense through Johnson.

He posted on the lower right block, asked for the ball, and his teammates gave it to him. There was little Bowling Green's frontline players could do to slow him down. Johnson's power game enabled the Zips to open a 62-54 lead and Dambrot pulled him off the floor for break.

''Coach Dambrot and my teammates believe a lot in me and my ability to make a play, whether it be scoring or finding the open shooter, so we just kind of played off that and just went with the flow,'' Johnson said.

While Johnson was catching breath, the Zips immediately extended their lead without him as Kretzer buried his third 3-pointer to cap a 12-2 run and give Akron a 65-54 lead.

The Falcons, who lost by 35 points at Akron on Feb. 26, lacked the firepower to come back against Akron, one of just five schools to win at least 21 games in each of the past 10 seasons.

Johnson is sensitive about his weight and was reluctant to reveal it following the game.

''I'm going to have to go no comment on that one,'' he said.

Dambrot, too, ducked the question.

''Fifth Amendment,'' the coach said. ''You never ask a woman their weight. I call him the Whopper. I don't know what I'm going to call him.''

One more win and Johnson can be called a champion.

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