A lack of rebounding in the second half and missed defensive assignments on two late Akron 3-pointers are the two main reasons why despite hanging tough until the very end, host Kent State dropped its fifth consecutive game to the rival Zips Saturday afternoon, 71-67.
An energetic first half that had the Flashes crashing the boards with abandon led to a surprising 10-point lead at halftime, 36-26, in front of a sellout crowd at the M.A.C. Center and in front of a national television audience on ESPNU.
But in the second half, the same Flashes that had pieced together a 16-2 run to close the first half, struggled to match the Zips energy and rebounding out of the gate. After out rebounding the Zips 26-20 in the first 20 minutes of play, the Flashes were sorely out rebounded 31-13 in the final 20, leading to too many Akron second-chance points.
“This is obviously a very tough loss for us because we competed very hard and competed the way we wanted to compete for the most part,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “Akron did a great job on the offensive glass in the second half in particular and then made those two huge plays when they needed to and you have to give them credit for that.”
Senior guard Chris Evans scored a game-high 19 points to lead three Flashes in double figures, along with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals in 35 minutes. Sophomore point guard Kris Brewer and junior forward Darren Goodson each chipped in 14 points for Kent State.
In fact, Goodson had the best game of his short KSU career Saturday before fouling out of the game late. It was his energy and hustle that sparked the Flashes in the first half. But he failed to match it in the ill-fated second half.
“My teammates know what type of player I am and can be,” Goodson said. “I was just trying to find a way to help my team win. But it wasn’t good enough and I fouled out. Just wasn’t good enough.”
Although Akron outscored Kent State 30-18 in the paint and had 23 second-chance points to the Flashes eight, the pesky Flashes hung around and kept it a game until Akron senior center Zeke Marshall secured the win at the free throw line.
The “true daggers” as Evans called them, came before Marshall finally found his form at the free-throw line, via a pair of late Akron 3-pointers. The first one was by senior point guard Alex Abreu with 2:18 to go and tied the game 63-63. The next was by junior sharp shooter Brian Walsh and put the Zips ahead 66-63 with just 1:38 left.
“Brian Walsh is a very good player who seems to always make big ones and Alex Abreu is another good player who makes big ones,” Senderoff said. “Even when they’re not playing well, you know that they have the ability to make big shots.”