Cleveland, Ohio -- Today the Mid-American Conference announced that Eastern Michigan’s Rob Murphy and Buffalo’s Mitchell Watt have earned top honors for the 2011-12 men's basketball season. Watt was named Player of Year, while Murphy was tabbed Coach of the Year in just his first season at the helm for the Eagles. The Player of the Year and Coach of the Year awards were voted on by a 24-member MAC News Media Association panel.
In a Player of the Year race where four different student-athletes garnered votes - Watt grabbed a total of 11. Miami’s Julian Mavunga received eight votes and finished second, while Toledo’s Rian Pearson garnered three votes and finished third. Ohio’s D.J. Cooper rounded out the voting this season with two votes.
Coach of the Year voting was extremely close this season and EMU’s Murphy edged Akron’s Keith Dambrot by just two votes. Murphy picked up 12 votes from the media, while Dambrot garnered ten. Buffalo’s Reggie Witherspoon rounded out the voting and received two votes.
Watt is the just the second UB player to earn the award as current assistant coach Turner Battle also took home the honor in 2005. Watt is having a breakout season for the Bulls. He is averaging 16 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.4 blocked shots per game – all career highs. He ranks in the top four in the conference in five different categories, including scoring (4th), rebounding (4th), field goal percentage (4th), blocked shots (2nd) and defensive rebounds (3rd).
“It’s thrilling to see his development and to see him evolve as a man to get to the point where he has that level of impact on not only his teammates, but the entire conference,” Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “I know how difficult it is for someone from Buffalo to get an award like this. I’m just elated for Mitch, his teammates, our staff and his family.”
The Goodyear, AZ native had a strong finish to season, helping the Bulls earn their best ever conference record (12-4) and highest seed in the FirstEnergy Mid-American Conference Tournament (2nd). Over the final ten games of the regular season, Watt averaged 18 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 58 percent from the field.
Murphy is one of just four coaches to earn the Coach of the Year Award since its inception in 1970. The other first-time winners were Darrell Hedric (Miami) in 1970-71, John McDougal (NIU) in 1976-77, and former EMU men's basketball player Stan Heath (Kent State) in 2001-02. Former EMU Head Coach Ben Braun, now the head man at Rice University, won the MAC award three times, in 1987-88, 1999-91 and 1995-96.
Murphy is also one of just four MAC coaches to lead his team to a division title in his first year. The MAC split into divisions beginning with the 1997-98 campaign. The other coaches to accomplish the feat in their first season include: Kent State’s Heath (2001-02), Kent State’s Jim Christian (2002-03) and Western Michigan’s Steve Hawkins (2003-04).
The Eagles, picked for sixth in the West Division and 11th overall in the preseason poll, won the West Division with a 9-7 record on the way to a 14-17 overall record in the regular season.
"It's humbling for me to be honored as the MAC Coach of the Year," Murphy said. "I credit my staff for their daily commitment and preparation in all areas of our program as we continue to lay our foundation."
"I thank Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) and Jim Christian (Kent State) for the opportunity they gave me along with the knowledge I learned the previous nine years as part of their coaching staffs," Murphy added.
The FirstEnergy MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament tips off with a total of four first round matchups tonight. Teams will then head to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena for the remainder of the Tournament as Second Round action begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Tournament will conclude with the MAC Championship game on Saturday, March 10th at 8 p.m. (ESPN2).
Tomorrow the MAC Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year will be announced.
MAC Men's Basketball Coach of the Year
Rob Murphy, Eastern Michigan (12 votes)
Keith Dambrot, Akron (10 votes)
Reggie Witherspoon, Buffalo (2 votes)
MAC Men's Basketball Player of the Year
Mitchell Watt, Buffalo (11 votes)
Julian Mavunga, Miami (8 votes)
Rian Pearson, Toledo (3 votes)
D.J. Cooper, Ohio (2 votes)