It's not hard to put into words what the Kent State-Akron rivalry is like. The schools, just 13 miles apart, absolutely despise each other. When their respective teams come together on the floor, court, or field, bad blood starts from the opening tip.
The magnitude of tonight's game only amplified the hatred. Being the team that knocks the other out of a chance at a NCAA Tournament berth is about as sweet as it gets. In football, Kent State beat Akron on the last day of the season to ensure that the Zips would be staying home during bowl season. That was their biggest win of the year.
The two teams split the season series, with Kent State winning just six days ago on a Kris Brewer buzzer-beating lay-up. Akron won pretty handily the first time out, but the Flashes were playing without stud forward Jimmy Hall. The Zips were coming off of a really solid win against Western Michigan, where Akron rained threes on the Broncos.
This game was the definition of #MACtion. It was a tight contest in the second half and the game had many lead changes late in the game. The suspense kept building and ultimately topped out when Kris Brewer's layup with just seconds to go bounced around the rim a few times and dropped out with Kent State down one. The Zips grabbed the rebound, made one of two free throws, and got a stop on the last possession to march on to a 53-51 victory.
Akron started out the game shooting, you guessed it, a bunch of threes. The Zips' first four shots were from beyond the arc, and the fourth was the one that fell first from Nyles Evans. The opening minutes were pretty similar to the game last week - with the teams kind of figuring each other out, trading baskets down the floor. Akron was up 10-9 at the under 12-minute media timeout and the stats were pretty much dead even.
No team was able to get any separation in the middle of the first half. The biggest development was probably the foul situation, as both Akron and Kent State had six fouls by the seven-minute mark.
A 8-0 Kent State run broke open the game a little at 23-12. The run was started by a big Devareaux Manley three, the Flashes' second of the game. After an Akron basket by Isaiah Johnson, Kent went on a quick 4-0 run to push the lead to 27-14. The Zips responded with a 5-0 run of their own to the get halftime deficit down to just eight at 27-19.
Hall led all scorers with eight points and pulled down six rebounds. Johnson was next, coming in with six points and four rebounds. Akron shot an awful 24 percent from the field, while Kent State came in much better at 38 percent. The Zips normally live and die by the three, and going 2-14 in the first half wasn't going to cut it.
The second half started out ugly - real ugly. Kent State started 1-7 from the field in the opening five minutes and Akron only was able to get off two shots. Then Akron started hitting their stride, starting with Antino Jackson's and-one lay-in to cut the Kent lead to 31-27. Jackson got to the rim again on the next possession and hit, netting his sixth and seventh points of the game to bring the lead to just two.
Derek Jackson answered with a sweet three-point play, halting the Akron momentum. But, Jackson came back with a huge three, giving him the last eight Akron points and cutting the lead to two again.
After Kent State built up a six point lead, the Zips battled back. Two Johnson free throws and a Cheatham three-ball mixed in with a Kent State free throw cut the lead back to two. Deji Ibitayo was able to draw the game even with two more free throws, and after a nice Chris Ortiz shot on the other end, Pat Forsythe nailed a lay-up and got the free throw to go. That free throw gave Akron their first lead since the 13:08 mark of the first half.
Kent State took back the lead and held it for awhile until the two minute mark when McAdams hit a huge three to cut the Kent lead to one. A Kent shot clock violation on the next possession led to Ibitayo getting fouled on Akron's end. He made both giving the Zips a 52-51 lead with 38 seconds left.
Brewer was the one to beat Akron the last time these two played, but couldn't make it happen this time. He missed a jumper which led to Hall fouling out on the ensuing rebound. Ibitayo only made one of two, and Kent State had the ball down two with seven seconds left.
Kent's last second drive to the hoop didn't go anywhere, but a wild Kent shot went in after time expired. The referees reviewed the play and determined that it was made after the buzzer, giving Akron the 53-51 victory.
"They ran they same play they did last time, so we switched everything." Cheatham said.
Akron's second-half shooting really won them the game. The Zips were 9-18 from the field in the second half, and were 13-17 from the free throw line. Kent State meanwhile was just 7-23 in the second half and was 0-9 from beyond the arc.
Kent State was led by Hall, who finished with 14 and 8. Him fouling out really hurt Kent State at the end, as he was the most effective player in the game. Derek Jackson scored 12 and notched 5 boards. The Flashes will likely get an invite to the CBI or CIT to continue their season.
The Zips had a well-balanced scoring effort from everyone. Forsythe had 12, Antino Jackson had 11 and Johnson had ten to lead the Zips. Ibitayo had a solid game with seven points and seven rebounds, and went 5-7 from the free throw line.
Buffalo awaits the Zips Friday night at 9 in the MAC Tournament semi-finals. The teams split the season series.