The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Misc The MAC The MAC Archive MAC March Madness: The 10 Greatest Tournament Games
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

kent state celebrateAs the final survivors of the long Mid-American Conference season descend upon downtown Cleveland this week for the final rounds of the league tournament, you can almost see the glimmer of possibility in the eyes of each player and coach.

Take care of business in C-Town and they’re off to the dance, with grand expectations of planting an upset on the lips Prince Charming and becoming this year’s Cinderella.

And why not? The MAC has provided more than its fair share of glass-slippered beauties over the years, which is particularly impressive considering its long history of receiving little respect from the selection committee.

Since tournament seeding began in 1979, only once has a MAC team entered an NCAA tournament game as the higher seed. And that was by accident - when 12th-seeded Eastern Michigan and No. 13 seed Penn State both somehow tumbled into the second round in 1991.

While perpetually climbing uphill, the MAC has fared surprisingly well, collecting 30 tournament victories over the past half century, led by Ohio’s seven, Miami’s six, and Kent State’s four.

Even in defeat, the MAC has made some waves. Near-upsets of No. 1 seeds come to mind (principally Ball State’s two-point loss to eventual champ UNLV in 1990 and OU’s overtime thriller with North Carolina last year), as well as individual showdowns like Ron Harper vs. Len Bias in 1985.

In the MAC’s rich history of March success, here are the 10 games that helped put the conference on the map:


10. 1975 first round:

Central Michigan 77, Georgetown 75

In one of the most controversial finishes of any NCAA tournament game, the Chippewas and Hoyas appeared headed for overtime when Georgetown’s Jonathan Smith launched a 30-foot desperation shot at the buzzer. The shot missed, but Smith was called for a charge, sending CMU’s Leonard Drake to the line for a one-and-one.

He made both - his only free throws of the game - sending the Chippewas to the regional semifinals, much to the chagrin of furious third-year Georgetown coach John Thompson.


9. 1996 first round:

Eastern Michigan 75, Duke 60

Technically, this wasn’t much of a surprise. Led by flamboyant point guard Earl Boykins, Eastern Michigan bounded into the tournament as a nine seed and were paired with a rebuilding Duke team that posted a modest 18-12 record. But still, even if seeded eighth, Duke is Duke.

In Indianapolis, where Duke had won its first national title five years before, the Blue Devils were dominated by EMU, who were led by Boykins’ 23 points, including 10 in the final seven minutes to stave off a late Duke rally. It marked Duke’s first opening-round loss in 41 years and a milestone victory for the MAC.


8. 1995 first round:

Miami 71, Arizona 62

Playing just 40 miles away from home in Dayton, 12th-seeded Miami controlled the game and toppled Arizona, ranked No. 13 nationally going into the tournament. Dreadlocked Miami sophomore Devin Davis outscored first-team All-American Damon Stoudamire 24-18, as Stoudamire hit only 6 of 18 shots in his final college game.

The Redskins then nearly did it again in the second round, taking a 10-point lead in the second half against No. 4 seed Virginia before falling in overtime.


7. 2010 first round:

ohio georgetown 2010Ohio 97, Georgetown 83

In the biggest tournament upset in MAC history, the Bobcats, a 14 seed, dominated third-seeded Georgetown, taking a 12-point halftime advantage and leading by as many as 19 in the second half. OU hit 13 of 23 three-point shots, led by junior Armon Bassett’s 32 points and 23 more from freshman point guard D.J. Cooper on just 12 shots.

Considering Ohio managed just a ninth-place regular-season finish in the MAC while Georgetown finished the season ranked 14th in the nation (and that the Bobcats won by such a comfortable margin), this stands out as one of the most notable tournament upsets in recent memory.



6. 1990 first round:

Ball State 54, Oregon State 53

The finish to this one was almost dream-like - a driveway fantasy come true. Trailing by two points with four seconds left, Ball State senior forward Paris McCurdy caught an in-bound pass and hit a short jumper as time expired - and his defender was whistled for a foul. Standing alone at the free-throw line, McCurdy completed the three-point play to send the Cardinals to the second round in one of the most memorable finishes to a tournament game.

Ball State then parlayed the magic into a second-round upset of Louisville before giving eventual national champion UNLV its toughest game of the tournament in the regional semifinals.


5. 2012 first round:

Ohio 65, Michigan 60

Shortly after new Michigan football coach Brady Hoke began continually referring to Ohio State as “Ohio” in an attempt to irritate Buckeye Nation, everyone in Ann Arbor found out the hard way who Ohio actually was.

Led by point guard D.J. Cooper, the Bobcats built a 13-point advantage in the first half and led the Wolverines - just crowned Big Ten regular-season champs and ranked 13th nationally going in - for much of the game. Michigan missed a pair of three-point shots in the final minute that could have tied the game before OU forced a turnover and clinched victory with a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining.


4. 1978 first round:

Miami 84, Marquette 81 (OT)

Defending national champion Marquette appeared poised for another run to the Final Four, reaching the top of the AP poll again in late February and standing at No. 3 with a 24-3 record going into a first-round match with heavy-underdog Miami in Indianapolis.

The Warriors appeared to have the game in hand, leading by 10 points with less than four minutes remaining, then center Jerome Whitehead was ejected for a flagrant foul and Marquette coach Hank Raymonds earned a technical for arguing the call. The momentum swung to Miami, who rallied to send the game to overtime, where the Redskins - led by senior Randy Ayers - again rallied from behind in the final minute to score the game’s last five points and stun the reigning champions.


miami utah 19993. 1999 second round:

Miami 66, Utah 58

The RedHawks became just the fourth MAC team to win back-to-back games in the NCAA tournament and etched their place in Cinderella history. Behind senior forward Wally Szczerbiak’s 24 points and eight rebounds - two days after he scored 43 against Washington - the RedHawks took down a Utah team that had reached the national championship the year before and entered the ’99 tournament as a No. 2 seed, ranked sixth in the nation.

After Utah forecasted a blowout, taking an 11-point lead in the opening minutes, Miami’s Jason Stewart hit a trio of three-point shots in just over a minute to turn the tide, and the RedHawks controlled the game from there.


2. 1964 regional semifinal:

Ohio 85, Kentucky 69

Even after pulling off a narrow upset over Louisville in the opening round, nobody expected OU to match up with Adolph Rupp’s mighty Wildcats, who entered the game ranked third in the nation. The Bobcats not only matched up, they dominated UK, building a 16-point halftime lead and then held off the Wildcats in the second half behind Jerry Jackson’s 25 points and 11 rebounds.

The win propelled a MAC team to within one victory of the Final Four for the first time - something that wouldn’t happen again for 38 years.


kent state pitt 20021. 2002 regional semifinal

Kent State 78, Pittsburgh 73 (OT)

It had all been fun and games for 10th-seeded Kent State through the first two rounds of the ’02 tournament, as the Golden Flashes picked up upset victories over Oklahoma State and Alabama. But just when most thought the clock would strike midnight for 2002’s Cinderella, Kent State refused to leave the stage, toppling seventh-ranked Pittsburgh in an overtime classic.

Led by 22 points and eight rebounds from future NFL All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates, the Flashes held their own in a tightly-matched slugfest and won their 21st straight game, pushing them to the doorstep of the Final Four. Afterward, KSU guard Trevor Hoffman called the win “A validation of our place in history.”

And indeed, more than a decade later, we’re still talking about it - and a handful of others.

The TCF Forums