It should have been easier than it was, but top-seeded Akron managed to hold on for a 78-74 win over Kent State, and advance to Saturday's MAC tournament final.
The Golden Flashes tried everything in the last two minutes to stay alive, as Randal Holt suddenly getting hot from behind the 3-point line. It just happened too late.
Earlier that range had belonged to Akron, who made eight 3-pointers to Kent State's five in the game. At one point, the Zips had sunk 7 of 14 from long range to Kent State's one.
And yet despite tired legs, the Golden Flashes just kept finding ways to keep the defending champs from coasting.It didn't help that shot blocker extraordinaire Zeke Marshall spent most of the second half resting on the bench with foul trouble, limiting him to just two blocks in the game. His presence in the opening 20 minutes had Kent State settling for jumpers instead of going to the hoop for easy baskets.
You don't want to put too much stock in one player, but Akron seemed to show much more poise on the floor when the junior was out there. Sans the defensive player of the year, turnovers were up, defense was lax. It is no wonder that Kent State thought they might have an opening.
This was after the Zips almost ran them out of the building in the first half. And when they couldn't run, they shot 3s. Lots of them, as in 20, as in 40 percent of their shots.
The Golden Flashes were led by Holt, who scored 21 points, including six in the final 30 seconds, and Justin Greene with 20.
That Akron struggled so much to just put Kent State away isn't a good sign. During the year, they powered past the Golden Flashes in the second halves of games, using long runs to their advantage. It just didn't come as easily Friday -- until Kent State starting tripping all over itself. Even then, Marshall and Abreu failed to make important free throws down the stretch.
Struggling that much can't bode well for them on Saturday against either Ohio or Buffalo, both of whom will have something to prove against the conference champs.