The Akron Zips use a two-plus hour video aired on ESPN2 to make their own statement Saturday night, as they beat the Kent State Golden Flashes, 75-55 to win the 2022 Mid-American Conference Championship in Cleveland, Ohio.
Tonight’s game had a lot of intrigue going in, as the MAC offices had announced the suspension of four Kent State players for a profanity-laced “diss” video aimed directly at their blood rivals which found its way around Twitter and Snapchat overnight. It was a controversial decision, which included the first-half suspension of starting guard Malique Jacobs for the first half of the title game. At the end of the day, however, the game still had to be played, and the Zips and Flashes took to the floor to secure their ticket to the Big Dance.
The first half both teams looked sluggish, not a major surprise considering they were both on the third leg of back-to-back-to-back games. The MAC’s player of the year Sincere Carry had a particularly tough time in the opening stanza, with just three points and eight of the team’s 12 turnovers.
The Zips separated from the Flashes with about five minutes left in the half, as Ali Ali, one of the named players in the Kent State diss track, was the catalyst with nine points. The Zips held a 34-25 lead at the intermission.
Kent State got Jacobs back for the second half and it appeared to give them some life. They scored the first eight points of the half to get within a point at 34-33 with 17:34 to play. But the Zips got rolling after that, thanks to a couple of big three-pointers from Gavin Clarke. The three-pointers helped the Zips get to 43-35 with 14 minutes left to play, and from there, raced out to a 60-42 with 6:34 remaining after an old-fashioned three-point play by Enrique Freeman. It proved to be the straw which broke the camel’s back, as Kent State didn’t have the legs to mount much of a threat the rest of the way, hoisting up 13 points over the remaining time as Akron cruised to victory.
Freeman was named Tournament MVP and finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, two assist and two steals. Freeman shot 8-of-10 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Ali and Xavier Castaneda finished with 15 points each. The Zips shot 52 percent for the game from both the field and from three-point range, compared to Kent State’s 46 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
The story for the Flashes was Carry’s unexpected struggles. He finished with more turnover (9) than points (6), especially struggling without Jacobs on the court. He was just 2-of-11 from the field, a stark contrast to the game he had the night before in the semifinals. Justyn Hamilton led Kent State in scoring with 19 points. The Flashes finished with 19 turnovers as team.
The Zips improve to 24-9 on the season and will find out tomorrow their first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament. The Flashes fall to 23-10, and will await to find out where they will be playing next in the postseason.