Penno banks Miami of Ohio to NCAA berth

CLEVELAND -- Charlie Coles wandered around the crowded floor strewn with joyous players, delirious cheerleaders and fans -- and more than a few teary-eyed Zips. Miami of Ohio's folksy coach, who thought he had seen it all in college basketball, was confused.

"Did we win?" Coles asked anyone he could find.

No one had an answer.

Saying a prayer as his shot hung in the air, Doug Penno banked in a 3-pointer as the final horn sounded, giving Miami a 53-52 win over Akron in the championship of the Mid-American Conference tournament on Saturday.

Penno's unbelievable shot, which appeared off line as it left his hand, touched off a wild -- and as it turned out premature -- celebration by Miami's players, coaches and fans who piled on top of each other at midcourt.

But the game wasn't over. Far from it.

During a 10-minute delay that embodied March madness, officials reviewed replays using a stopwatch as the RedHawks hugged each other at one end of the floor while stunned Akron players hoped for a second chance at their first MAC tourney title -- and an NCAA berth.

Confusion reigned.

"I was just unruly," said the 65-year-old Coles, who went into cardiac arrest during a MAC tournament game in 1998. "I almost got in three fights."

He wasn't the only one outraged.

Akron coach Keith Dambrot stormed to the scorer's table and demanded officials review Penno's shot, which came with about 1.3 seconds left. Dambrot also argued that more time should have run off the clock before Penno's attempt.

The referees huddled around a monitor on the scorer's table trying to decide what to do. MAC commissioner Rick Chryst came onto the floor and Coles and Dambrot met at center court, shaking hands amid the chaos.

Eventually, 0.6 seconds were put back on the clock, giving the Zips (26-7) one last chance.

But an inbounds pass intended for Akron reserve Nick Goddard went out bounds, and when the referees waved the game was official, Miami celebrated again as Akron's players walked off in disbelief.

"I hope they're right," said Dambrot, who was still pleading his case 30 minutes afterward. "I'll be man enough to admit it if they're right. But if they are wrong, it's inexcusable."

Tim Pollitz finished with 19 points to pace Miami (18-14) and was named the tournament's MVP. Penno added 11 points for the RedHawks, who won their fourth MAC title and will make their 17th trip to the NCAAs.

"I wish I could say I called that bank," Penno said. "But it was a gift from God."

Penno's shot came after Akron's Cedrick Middleton, a 69 percent free throw shooter, was short with an attempt with 6.6 seconds left, and the ball was tipped out by Miami's Michael Bramos.

TV replays showed that the clock didn't start on Bramos' tip, seeming to give the RedHawks at least one more second to rush the ball up the floor. Bramos passed it quickly to Penno, who nearing the 3-point line, launched his shot as Akron's Nick Dials got a hand in his face.

When Penno's shot ripped through the net, Middleton fell face first on the floor, knowing Akron's historic season -- the Zips tied a school record for wins -- would fall short of an NCAA bid.

But following their prolonged huddle, which drew boos from a Miami crowd that had just screamed in delight following Penno's shot, officials determined the MAC championship wasn't quite done, cleared the floor and ordered both teams to their benches.

Official Lamont Simpson explained the crew started the clock late but decided to add time when they determined the last play took six seconds.

"It's OK, it's OK," Penno shouted toward Miami's radio announcers, who were stunned the Zips were getting another chance.

And then, as he tried to catch the final pass, Goodard leaped onto a press table, breaking it in half and adding to the drama.

Still, it wasn't clear if Miami's win was in the books. After a few seconds, the horn sounded again, and this time the RedHawks could at last celebrate their stunning upset.

Jeremiah Wood had 17 points and 12 rebounds and Romeo Travis 14 points for the Zips, who will have to settle for the NIT.

"We lost on a freaky play," said Dambrot, who spent a portion of his postgame news conference pushing for the Zips to get an at-large NCAA bid. "We won't feel sorry for ourselves. That's the way life is."

The win was especially gratifying for Penno, who lost a high school state championship to Travis, Dru Joyce and Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James in 2003.

"I just put it up and said a prayer while it was in the air," he said. "None of us will ever forget that shot. I just put it up and had faith. It banked in. I was just looking around in disbelief.

"I just banked a shot to put us in the tournament."