CLEVELAND -- Akron's special season has hit a stunning snag.
Zips starting point guard Alex Abreu pleaded not guilty to trafficking and possession of marijuana on Friday, hours before his teammates played rival Kent State in their regular-season finale -- on senior night -- without the junior floor general and inspirational leader. Abreu has been suspended indefinitely, pending the outcome of the police investigation.
"I felt like my son got arrested really," Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said on Friday night. "It's a heartbreaking thing. I love that kid, and I'm gonna stick behind him.
"It's my obligation to stick behind him and get him through this difficult time. Nobody knows better than me that people make mistakes. So if there is anyone who can forgtive him, it's going to be me," Dambrot said.
"That's what is hard about this business," Dambrot said. "You can be at the top one day and smacked in the face the next."
Abreu appeared via closed-circuit TV from jail in Akron Municipal Court. On Thursday, the 21-year-old and Austin L. Durgala, 18, were arrested by police for allegedly accepting a package containing 5 pounds of marijuana. According to police, narcotic-unit detectives arrested Abreu and Durgala at the latter's residence.
Abreu posted $5,000 bond and was released from the Summit County Jail at around 6 p.m. He offered only one "no comment" to reporters before he and Durgala got in a car and were driven away. Abreu is due back in court March 22, when the Zips hope to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
But without Abreu, Akron's run to make the NCAA field for the third time since 2009 will be much more challenging.
Although the Zips (24-5, 14-1) recently won 19 straight games and will be the No. 1 seed in next week's Mid-American Conference tournament, they'll need to win the tourney to get the league's automatic NCAA bid. If Akron doesn't capture the championship, there's no guarantee they'll get one of the coveted at-large bids awarded by the selection committee.
The MAC has not had two teams in the NCAA tourney since 1999.
With experience, size, balance and depth, these Zips have all the makings of one that could bust brackets in March. Abreu, a three-year starter who found his way to Akron from Puerto Rico, averages 10.3 points and 6.3 assists, many of them going to 7-foot center Zeke Marshall, who gives Akron an inside presence to play with any team from any conference.
Beyond his stat line, the fiery Abreu has had a steadying hand for the Zips, who had the nation's longest winning streak before they were beaten last week at Buffalo -- Akron's first loss since Dec. 15.
Akron had lost a pair of non-conference games while Abreu was hurt, and coach Ken Dambrot was hoping the NCAA selection committee would take that into account if the Zips were under consideration. Now, assuming Abreu's suspension continues, his off-the-floor issues could keep Akron out unless they can avoid being knocked out of the always competitive MAC tournament at Quicken Loans Arena.
During an interview with The Associated Press last month, Dambrot praised Abreu's toughness for playing through a sprained ankle earlier this season.
Bowling Green 76, Buffalo 65
BOWLING GREEN, -- Jordon Crawford scored 26 points as Bowling Green avenged an earlier loss to Buffalo with a 76-65 victory Thursday night.
Bowling Green (13-18, 7-9 Mid-American Conference) fell to the Bulls 68-65 on Jan. 19 and trailed 35-32 at halftime Thursday. Cameron Black's three-point play put the Falcons ahead 43-42 with 14:42 left, launching an 8-0 run and putting Bowling Green ahead for good.
The win keeps Bowling Green eligible for the fifth seed and a first-round bye at the MAC Tournament.
Crawford hit 9-of-13 from the field and 3-of-4 from 3-point range. A'uston Calhoun added 15 points and Black (Kent Roosevelt) finished with 13. Black also had six rebounds, two blocked shots and two assists in the Falcons' win.
Buffalo (12-19, 7-9) had won three straight in the rivalry. Cameron Downing paced the Bulls with 17 points off the bench. Javon McCrea added 15 points, surpassing Sam Pellom for sixth on the school's all-time scoring list. McCrea has 1,418 points for his career.