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The general admission seats are becoming quite packed, and there's still 30 minutes until tipoff.
If Akron wins, they will lead the division with a 4-1 record. If Kent State wins, there will be three teams at 3-2 (KSU, UA and Ohio). In either case, the first round of divisional play ends tonight. Then the round of six interdivision games begin.
This is probably my 20th Akron-Kent game as a writer. The ABJ's George Thomas gets to experience his first. He seems excited.
Akron's starters: Brian Walsh, Alex Abreu, Nik Cvetinovic, Chauncey Gilliam and Zeke Marshall.
Kent's starters: Michael Porrini, Randall Holt, Carlton Guyton, Justin Manns and Justin Greene.
Cvetinovic has scored 1,000 points, and he's the 39th player in program history to do so. Marshall now holds the program's blocked shots record.
Before tipoff, I can only count room for an extra 10 people in the parts of the arena within my vision. They really packed this crowd in.
How loud is it? I couldn't hear a voicemail message on my phone.
Pregame - Akron 0, Kent State 0
Before the tipoff, Manns tried to stare Marshall down. Marshall just smiled at him.
Walsh splashed a 3 on the opening possession. Abreu dropped a transition layup on the next. A quick 5-0 lead for Akron.
PNC is sponsoring the rivalry between Kent State and Akron as the Wagon Wheel Challenge. Previously, the Wagon Wheel applied to football only. The school wins the Challenge by earning the most points in a given school year. Each sport at the universities is worth one point (basketball games are worth 1/2 point each).
With three turnovers in their next four possessions, Akron allowed Kent State to tie it up.
Quincy Diggs and Brett McClanahan were the first Zips off the bench at the 16:40 mark. Diggs has traded his afro in for dreadlocks.
15:53 - Akron 8, Kent State 6
Manns badly missed two free throws. Not to be outdone, Cvetinovic airballed a jumper from the top of the key. #guyswhoshouldn'tshoot
An AK-Rowdie member is holding a cool sign. It's an illustration of a tree, with Demetrius Treadwell's face embedded in the trunk.
Akron has six team fouls with 12 minutes left in the first half. KSU has two.
Rob Senderoff had a conniption after Chris Evans was called for a blocking foul against Diggs right in front of the KSU bench. The referee pointed to Senderoff as a warning.
11:29 - Akron 14, Kent State 14
Walsh gave Akron a quick five-point injection upon returning to the game.
McClanahan picked up his third foul after getting ripped at midcourt. The Zips have committed seven turnovers, to Kent's one.
Kent State moved to a 2-3 zone. Akron's going to need to pop some 3s. Gilliam did just that.
6:51 - Akron 24, Kent State 23
Gilliam stamped a one-hand dunk in transition. Perhaps he is shaking off his slump. He had scored 12 total points in his prior four games.
Give Diggs a PBU (pass breakup) for his diving slap-away at a fast break pass from Porrini.
Dr. Luis Proenza is in the front row, taking in the game, wearing his signature suit with a gold tie.
Marshall was assaulted after catching a rebound. When he lost the ball without a foul, the fans were unhappy.
Terry Bowden gave a video address during a timeout, asking for season ticket renewals. He ended the message with "Go Zips, beat Kent State."
3:33 - Akron 30, Kent State 31
Akron is outshooting, outrebounding and out-assisting the Flashes. But Kent has fewer fouls (8 to 3) and turnovers (9 to 2).
The AK-Rowdies wrote on a dry-erase board: "Dirty players, dirty donors / Kent State." They're referring to this story.
Evans slapped home a ball bouncing off the rim. I can't believe that's not basket interference.
Kent State went on an 21-10 run to end the half. Akron's offense is sloppy and disjointed.
Halftime - Akron 34, Kent State 42
Notable halftime stats: Holt has 14 points and Greene has nine for KSU. Walsh leads Akron with eight. Marshall has five rebounds. Abreu has five assists and five turnovers. Akron is shooting 48.3 percent, but only 3-of-11 on 3s; Kent is 47.2 percent. Kent State has scored 20 points off Akron's 11 turnovers. Akron has scored one point off KSU's three.
Greene picked up two quick fouls in the second half. He has three and will take a seat.
Treadwell showed great hustle by diving after a loose ball and tossing it to Abreu. He got the ball back, missed a layup, but tapped the ball back in.
15:33 - Akron 40, Kent State 48
Patrick Jackson made a nice rebound in traffic, and seemingly in the same motion, he bounced the ball in, off the glass. Treadwell and Jackson are having a fiery battle.
Akron has looked better on offense this half, but the Flashes are answering bucket-for-bucket. The KSU lead has remained between six and 10 all half. The fans are hungry for a Zips run.
McClanahan and Diggs hit 3s to bring Akron within three. Diggs then nailed another 3 in transition to tie it up. Wow. That was a fast nine points. The crowd is going nuts.
After the 3, Evans gave Diggs a little shove. The refs were quick to jump between the groups of players as they crossed paths on the way to the bench.
11:38 - Akron 55, Kent State 55
It should be clear that Akron got back in the game once they started running the floor and using the transition game to get open looks at 3s. In that manner, Cvetinovic stroked a 3 to give the Zips their first lead since 30-29.
I like Cvetinovic much more when he's driving the lane, so long as Marshall is crashing behind him.
In this rivalry, the team that hits 61 points first wins 24 out of 26 times -- or so I'm told. Nick Harney had a shot goaltended, so Akron hit that arbitrary number first.
Greene picked up his fourth foul at the 8:41 mark.
The Zips extended the lead to five with a Gilliam tip-in on a fast break. He walked over to the crowd and pulled his jersey aside showing his pectoral muscle, while giving a mean mug look. Not sure what that exactly means.
7:55 - Akron 64, Kent State 59
Harney and Treadwell should each get credit for a blocked shot. Their hands both slapped it into the frontcourt. It started a fast break that Gilliam finished.
Akron is on a 22-8 run. Let there be no mistake, the game changed when Akron turned up the tempo. This is likely why Keith Dambrot downplays Akron's turnover problems. When the Zips are playing puckered-up, they're not running the court. When they're not running the court, they're not taking advantage of their skilled transition players.
Harney has looked really good tonight. Really good. He has scored three consecutive field goals, the second coming after he picked off a pass. He has 15 points tonight.
The Zips have quickly turned a nine point deficit into a 13-point lead, which is the largest lead for either team. KSU has scored only two points in the last four minutes.
Diggs threw a nice alley-oop that Harney converted. I asked Dambrot last week why the team doesn't run plays for Harney. Today, Harney has been more involved, and it appears part of the gameplan.
Now is the time for Akron to run a little clock with each possession.
Dang, there's Harney again with another field goal. This guy just keeps it coming.
Now it's Kent that has a stagnant offense. The ball seems to be bouncing the Zips' way every time, too.
3:26 - Akron 78, Kent State 65
The Zips took my advice too literally, and were whistled for a shot clock violation.
Guyton hit a 3. He has had a rough game, shooting 3-of-14.
Cvetinovic found himself open for a 3, with 24 seconds left on the shot clock. The Akron fans collectively gasped. Cvetinovic passed, and then smiled, knowing he did right by the fans.
1:12 - Akron 80, Kent State 69
Harney's 19 points are a career high. His previous career high was 15 against Detroit.
The Zips have run more this half, but they have also taken care of the ball. They have turned it over only four times this half.
The final score will be closer than it should, as Harney and Cvetinovic have each missed front ends of one-and-ones.
Holt is sitting on the floor with an apparent injury. Shortly after he went down, the AK-Rowdies began their "I believe we have won" chant. Holt limped off the court.
Final score - Akron 84, Kent State 75
Notable final stats: Akron shot 55.6 percent and made 4-of-5 3-point attempts in the second half. KSU was 43.1 percent. Holt scored 27 on 9-of-14 shooting. Harney had 21 on 10-of-12 shooting. Treadwell had nine rebounds. Akron had 21 assists (Abreu 7), compared to Kent's 11. The Zips outrebounded KSU 39 to 30.
"That was a very strange game, I thought. At halftime, we got punched in the gut. Emotionally, we looked done. Our guys did a good job hanging in there, staying composed. The crowd really helped us."
"I've had to really change the way I coach with this group. (At halftime) we have to stay aggressive defensively instead of being position oriented. We tried to use our bench. We have a really good bench. Offensively, we were just ignorant. We kept standing on the wing and letting them intercept it. Other than that, we made very few adjustments."
"Harney, Diggs and Treadwell allowed us to play in short intervals harder. We kind of used him like we used Brett McKnight. It's a matter of Harney practicing harder. He's one of the most talented guys I've had. Romeo Travis didn't want to practice either. They build their credibility. They play well in the game, so the players accept it. It's not like how I like to run my business."
On Holt: "He's a good shooter. You can't give him shots like that (in the first half)."
"We're not as disciplined, we don't understand our defensive concepts as well, but we're gifted. We probably should press. This is the most athletic team we've had."
"I'm not minimizing them (the turnovers). This group is going to turn the ball over more than other groups. Quincy Diggs is going to make more plays but also make more turnovers. Do I like it? No I don't like it. But you have to adjust to what you have. They hurt us badly on turnovers in the first half."
"This group has a lot of upside if they practice better. We're not a finished product. That's probably the best five minutes of basketball since I've been there. We're more like Kent now, than the old Akron."
"I think Justin has trouble shooting over him (Marshall). Justin's the key to their team. He's a terrific kid. If they're going to win, it's going to be because of him--him and Porrini. We did a pretty good job on him, Guyton and Porrini. I thought Zeke was a little undisciplined at times. Justin is a little awkward. He reminds me of Robert Parish. He looks awkward but it goes in consistently."
"Our team scares me a little bit. My son told me that you can beat a lot of good teams, but you can lose to anybody. I think that's a good analysis. At times, we look like we're thoroughbreds. Other times, you wonder what we're doing out there."
"We have a lot of good traits. But we haven't shown we can win three or four games in a row in Cleveland."
"Coaching is about being flexible. You have to figure out how to make them play at their highest level. You have to treat each guy differently. I found when I talk to Tree and Harney, they're good. When I yell and scream, they hate my guts. I try to adapt and do the best I can. It's a gradual process to get them to be an Akron Zip. I think it's all new for them."
On Harney: "He's got tremendous instincts. He does things so easily that you don't think he's playing hard sometimes. He just glides. He can go left, he can go right. The biggest thing is the defensive end. If you're not going to take the charge, that's fine. But just block the shot. He's one of the best talents I've seen. I've had four NBA guys. If he works at it ... He looks like a guy who belongs in the pros."
"I think they (Kent) has some of the same issues they had last year. They're undecided at the four. They have good guards, but they're not quite what Holt, Porrini and Guyton are. I've never felt like our starting five is as good as other people, but we have nine strong guys. That's our advantage."
"The thing that I'm proud of with Quincy is that he comes in early every day to work on his game. I think he's done a good job at the point. Sometimes, we're better with him in than with Alex, because we're big. We're built kind of high-major versus mid-major."
"The faster we play, the better we look at times."
On whether he will start pressing more: "You have to play hard if you press. We have to keep evolving as a program. That's probably why we're so bad early. It takes me a long time to figure it all out."
"I missed two (shots) today. Repetition has been working for me."
"We have the deepest team in the MAC."
"It seemed unreal, so much going on at one time."
On his final dunk: "I think I just reached a point every player has, you're just competing so long, there's a weight lifted off you."
"I felt like after Q hit those two 3s, it took a lot of them. They got stagnant."
On Abreu: "We go as Alex goes, as a team."
"I think we can play in many ways. We can live and die by the 3, but we also have guys who can slash."
"In a game like this, it's all about momentum and who can stand the runs."
"I felt like every shot was going in. I just felt that good today."
"It was personal to us (that they went into halftime without the lead)."
"Long time coming. I was waiting for one of these games for a long time."
"For a game of this magnitude, everybody is going to be excited. We had to settle down, get ourselves together."
On depth: "That's why we stay so fresh out there and move up and down the court."
On his slump: "I just go out there and play basketball."
On Cvetinovic: "He sets the tone. He brings the fire. We try to match it, and that makes us a good team."
On Abreu: "He's a great point guard. He's great at controlling the tempo."
"We understand that we can't give up that many points in the first half. We felt like we had to kick it up a little bit."
"Kent's a tough team. They're tough guys. You always know they're going to bounce back. We just had to keep playing hard, to keep the intensity high."
On playing Kent, rather than just watching like last year: "It was a dream"
"They went through a stretch where they hit four-straight, and it seemed like they were mostly in transition. Then it was bang, bang, bang. The momentum really changed there. That's been a problem for us. Once the momentum shifts away from us, we have had a problem fighting back. That was probably the game right there."
"I may be the only person around that still believes in our team. I'm not losing faith in our team. If that's what he said, I'm not going to argue with him. The players have the pulse more than the coach does at any time. We have 11 more league games, so this is just one of those games."
"In the first half, we obviously did a good job of forcing turnovers and limiting second-chance points. I know that they had a lot of transition points during that run. We weren't getting offensive rebounds. We weren't getting the looks that we had gotten in the first half."
"Nick Harney, he's very good. If you look at their team, they play nine guys. Any of them, on any given night, can have a great night. Early in the season, they struggled, because Harney was suspended for five games, I think. Now they have their full group. Chauncey Gilliam, he had a big impact. I thought, when they needed a basket, he helped them. They have a deep team. They have a deep team."
"I'm more concerned with my group than their group. They had 41 points off the bench. They had a lot of guys contribute tonight. They've always had a deep team. They've always had quality depth. They're good. The way their depth played had an impact on the game. They finished the game with Treadwell and Harney on the floor. They're good. Tradwell had five offensive rebounds. Those guys had a big impact, for sure."
"I'm concerned with the play of a lot of guys right now. More on the defensive end. You can look at (Guyton's) offensive numbers. I've wanted him to shoot the ball more. To me, it is not an offensive thing. Am I concerned about Guyton? I am, but it's because he has to team defend much better than we are right now."
"We were with this on Wednesday with OU. It's now two games in a row. I'm concerned about our mental toughness on the road in particular. At home, we fall behind and we gut it through and find a way to win."
"Randall, I'm proud of his effort. He played very, very well. There's probably a time during that run that I needed to find time to get him a shot. We just didn't for whatever reason. I have to look internally at myself for that."
"I knew we'd compete. If we were gonna break this thing down. We were up 10 with 13 minutes to go in the game. They don't tie the game until 11:30 to go. For about 28 minutes, we competed at the level we're supposed to compete at. They obviously made three-straight 3s in transition. I'm more concerned with, OK, they tied it. Where's the response from us? We missed some, what I would consider, easy shots. Justin getting his fourth foul hurt a little bit."
"I have to fix it, and I will fix it. As much as I have to fix it, they have to fix it too. We've played here enough to know that when we're up eight, at some point, it's going to get tied. We talked about that at halftime -- that at some point, they're going to get a run and it's going to get loud."
"Every game is must-win. If you're trying to win the league, we have to worry about Northern (Illinois). When that game ends, concern ourselves with who we play on Saturday. We can't look at the big picture. We definitely have to win the next game."
On Akron's streak: "It was very deflating. In the same sense, we got open looks ourselves and we didn't hit them. Credit Akron. They hit the big shots when it mattered."
"We didn't do a good job down the stretch finding guys in transition. It was like it was an open gym shooting them."
"Nick (Harney) is a hometown kid, just like me. I knew he would be a good fit for Akron. He came out and played a good game."
"Down the stretch, we haven't been guarding. The first half of the OU game, we guarded OK. The second half, we didn't fight back. That's all heart. That has nothing to do with basketball. If we don't get it together, it's going to be a long season. On the bright side, I think we're going to get it together."
"Akron made plays down the stretch. That's how we lost the MAC Championship."
"Every possession is important in a game like this. As leaders, we need to make sure everybody is doing that. Early in the year, we were doing that. If we get back to that, we're going to be fine. If not, it's going to be a long season."
"When you're not making shots, you get frustrated. They're at home. They make their runs. When they come back and see us in March, we're going to make a run. We have the heart of a champion. Until someone beats us, we're the champions. No matter what our record is, we feel we're the best."
"Coach Dambrot does a good job with those guys making sure they're ready to play. Nick Harney had 21 points in 14 minutes. We can win like that."
"It's tough playing against those guys (the skilled big men in the MAC East). But I feel I'm one of the best big guys too, and they have to play against me, too."
"I'm not used to that (questioning his team's heart). Right now, on the last two games on the road, we haven't showed much toughness or much heart. We just have to get back in the gym, practice and get after each other."