It was going to take a team effort for Kent State to knock off rival Akron, even with the host Zips missing suspended point guard Alex Abreu.
And that’s exactly what the Golden Flashes got – production from every single player on the roster in the first half - then they held on and made plays when they needed it in the second half en route to a 64-68 victory over the host Zips at James A. Rhodes Arena.
“We came out and played really, really well and really hard in the first half,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said of his team snapping a five-game losing streak to the rival Zips in the final game of the regular season. “In the second half, I don’t know that we played really well, but we played really, really hard. Anytime they made a run, our guys found a way to respond.”
Kent State (19-12, 9-7 in Mid-American Conference) fell behind early in the game 6-2, but used a 17-5 run that included a pair of 3-pointers to pull away and build a commanding 40-25 run by halftime - thanks in large part to a 13-2 advantage in points off turnovers.
“We didn’t react to well to (losing Abreu) in the first half, but our guys are competitive,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “Had we made one or two or three or four around the rim, it might have been a different outcome…It’s a tough loss.”
It looked like it just might be a different outcome in the second half when the Zips (24-6, 14-2) started the half with a 6-2 run that quickly woke up the 5,699 fans in attendance. Suddenly, the Jar was shaking. Feeding off the crowd, Zips junior forward Demetrius Treadwell was a beast on the boards, grabbing a series of offensive rebounds that helped the Zips cut into the Flashes lead, as Akron trailed by a more manageable 11 points five minutes into the half.
But Akron struggled from beyond the arc all game, shooting just 6-for-27 and thus leaving the game to be decided in the post.
“In the second half, we just threw it up there and beat their brains in on the boards,” Dambrot said. “We didn’t have any other choice. We couldn’t finesse it. We just had to tough it out and play (like one-time coach Bob) Huggins ball, I guess.”
Treadwell, who finished with a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds, certainly bought into the theory.
“I’ve never seen a guy that was so competitive and wanted to win so badly as (Treadwell),” Dambrot said. “That was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.”
But instead of blowing the lead like the Flashes did last season when a poor performance coming out of the locker room doomed them almost immediately, Kent State found the resolve it needed to stop the bleeding in the form of junior forward Darren Goodson and sophomore guard Kris Brewer.
Goodson responded to Treadwell’s rebounding with back-to-back buckets that kicked the Flashes lead back to 15 points. He led all scorers with 19 points along with eight rebounds. Brewer finished with 13 points and five rebounds, while senior guards Randal Holt and Chris Evans added 12 and 11 points, respectively.
“That’s where Kent’s improved,” Dambrot said. “Kris Brewer is playing at a real high level now and Darren Goodson is playing better than he did earlier in the year. That’s helped them be a little more settled with who they play.”
Abreu’s backup – freshman Carmelo Betancourt – filled in admirably. But he was beset by cramps in the second half twice had to leave the game to stretch, forcing Dambrot to have to get creative at the point.
But Zips senior center Zeke Marshall (14 points) kept Akron in it with clutch buckets down the stretch, including a thunderous put-back dunk with 5:07 to go that reduced KSU’s lead to single digits – 56-47.
A Treadwell jumper with just over four minutes to go trimmed Akron’s deficit further to seven points and back-to-back 3-pointers closed the gap to within three points, 64-61. But Brewer calmly made a pair of free throws to give the Flashes a little breathing room.
They needed it too, as Brian Walsh nailed another a final 3-pointer with .01 to go before time ran out on the Zips.
“We knew they weren’t going to play flat the whole night,” Holt said. “We knew they’d make a run and we were ready for it and sustained it. Every time they made a big run, we made a play or two to give ourselves some cushion.”