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I'm sitting down on the baseline, which is my normal position for Akron-Kent games. The AK-Rowdies are hurling insults at the Kent players as they warm up.
As you saw in today's Beacon Journal, Darlington Nagbe won Akron's second straight Hermann Trophy yesterday.
I've been near-sighted since law school screwed up my vision. Finally, I got glasses. Suddenly, I can distinguish between individual pixels in the big-screen. Hopefully, this will help me give you a more accurate picture of the games.
Attendance is really strong tonight. We still have 10 minutes until tipoff, and the general admission sections are about 97 percent full.
Assistant coach Rick McFadden visited my humble location at the baseline and quipped: "You graduated, and now they bump you to the kids' table." True.
Kent is wearing its black uniforms, which adequately allows the Flashes to play the villain role. Randall Holt is wearing bright yellow shoes. They are the exact hue of the bright-gold color in the Kent logo.
Kent starters: Michael Porrini, Holt, Justin Greene, Rodriguez Sherman, Justin Manns and Justin Greene.
Akron starters: Zeke Marshall, Alex Abreu, Nik Cvetinovic, Brett McClanahan and Steve McNees.
Abreu scored the first points on a 3. He is looking to the crowd, trying to pump up the fans.
As usual, it's taking awhile for these teams' offenses to relax. Neither has gone inside to their post player in the first four minutes. The teams have combined for eight turnovers and one assist.
Sherman has had a tough first five minutes. He has three turnovers.
Brett McKnight entered the game and promptly drilled a deep 2 in Mark Henninger's face. He splashed a 3 two possessions later. He now has another favorable matchup -- against 6-foot-11 Manns. On the other end, Manns found McKnight sleeping and sneaked inside for the lob pass.
Greene is 1-for-5 from the field. They still have not made an effort to isolate him on the post.
Henniger picked up two fouls within five seconds. Both on Cvetinovic drives. On KSU's next possession, Cvetinovic pinned a Henniger layup to the glass.
McNees has not scored much this season. I don't think fans should be too concerned, though. Throughout the Keith Dambrot era, established players have faded during the season, only to reappear. Chris McKnight from last season is the best example.
On the back of Marshall, the Zips are on a 7-0 run. He has converted put-backs on the last two possessions.
Kent State has a new player sitting in the bench. It's walk-on sophomore Jordan Wilds. He was re-added to the roster on Thursday after playing three games last season.
Greene plowed over Mike Bardo (no small feat) and was whistled for his second foul. Greene tried to help Bardo to his feet, but the Zips players nudged Greene aside and pulled Bardo up first. Greene apologized to Bardo on his way back down the floor. He seems like a good guy.
On a speeding fast break, Porrini threw an alley-oop pass to Eric Gaines, who missed the dunk and sent the ball into the front row. It was an exciting play, happening just 10 feet from me.
A video of Akron's national championship is playing on the big screen. The celebration is halftime on Wednesday at the Ohio game. Zippy is hoisting up the national championship trophy right now.
The band is playing "Don't Stop Believin'." I think that's proof something good will happen tonight. I was excited to see that Stanford's band played that everytime the Cardinal scored a touchdown.
The Rowdies have been heckling Porrini, calling him "Corey" -- his brother's name. On an inbounds play, they shouted to him: "You're worse than your brother Mike." Porrini turned around and said, "I am Mike!" Corey Porrini currently plays for Canton-Timken.
Bardo lost his contact lens after a McKnight free throw. The trainer dunked it in some solution, and back into Bardo's eye it went. If he gets pink eye in the next week, you'll know why. With all this talk about contacts and glasses, I should have sought out an optometrist to sponsor this blog post.
In one of the few isolation attempts for Greene, Marshall slapped the shot attempt away. On the other end, the Zips' center unleashed a filthy, nasty, angry, furious, vicious one-handed slam.
Halftime score: Akron 30, Kent State 27. Notable stats: Sherman has a game-high 13 points and has been perfect on his three 3-point attempts. Marshall leads both teams in rebounding with four. Porrini has played an efficient game at point with three assists and one turnover. Akron is shooting 37.9 percent and Kent is 38.1 percent. The Zips have had eight more field-goal attempts, due to their 17-to-11 advantage on the boards and 10-to-8 turnover margin. The Zips are leading with points in the paint, 12 to four. Kent made up ground by making 4-of-6 3-point attempts.
Kent stared off the second half with three straight buckets, giving the Flashes a three-point lead.
The Rowdies on the other end fooled Greene into thinking the shot clock was expiring, while it was really at "7."
Marshall bounced to the rim with the ball and dunked with both hands over Manns.
Greene has three fouls, which is something to watch. He hasn't been a factor yet, though.
After a Holt jumper, Kent opened up a six-point lead.
Dambrot has been upset with a couple calls. First, the refs missed a push-off on a rebound by Holt. Then, the ref whistled Marshall for a foul against Greene, when Dambrot contended Marshall had his arms straight up.
The Zips have stagnated on offense. Luckily, Kent has not stepped on Akron's throat, but the Flashes have extended their lead to nine.
Kent committed its seventh foul, so Akron must make the front end of these one-and-ones to get back into the game.
As many of you know, I'm on city council in Stow. I just realized that my distaste of all things Kent might be my least popular political belief. A lot of KSU faculty live in Stow, as I learned when I knocked on doors. After learning of their occupation, I had to bite my tongue.
Kent has made its run by retaking the paint. The Flashes now have an advantage in rebounding and points in the paint.
I took off my glasses for a moment, and realized how little I can see. I can't believe I reported on dozens of games without any competency in vision.
McKnight hit a 3 to bring the Zips back within four. A pull-up jumper on the break by McKnight brought Akron within two.
I like the Marshall vs. Greene matchup for Akron. Greene is giving up about six inches and isn't so much quicker as to drive around Marshall.
Akron came out of a timeout pressuring Kent full-court.
A deep McNees 3 nearly brought the roof down. But Greene responded with a put-back while he was fouled. Kent now has 22 points in the paint, compared to the Zips' 14.
More on McNees ... He has built up so much capital from the MAC Tournament that he could get suspended for dog fighting and still be a fan-favorite. In fact, that tournament performance should have earned him Dr. Proenza's parking spot.
An Abreu floater brought the Zips within one with six minutes left.
Sherman launched a 3 that hit nothing but the baseline. To hoist an airball in a college basketball rivalry game is a nightmare for all players. He is hearing airball chants that aren't even in chorus yet.
McClanahan hit a layup high off the glass to give Akron its first lead in about 15 minutes. He missed a good look at 3 that would have extended the lead on the next possession.
Akron committed its seventh foul, so Kent is also shooting. Manns split a pair, while listening to a chant about his "shrunken head."
Marshall blocked another Greene attempt. Kent will have two seconds on the shot clock after the media timeout. It's a tie game with 3:31 left.
Greene made a costly foul. It was his fourth and the team's tenth. Marshall made both to give Akron the lead. A Marshall sky hook extended the lead to four with 1:50 left.
Marshall helped stop Greene on the defensive end. Akron now holds the ball with a four point lead and a minute left. Marshall converted an alley-oop from McNees to make the crowd explode.
Sherman hit two free throws. Akron called timeout with 50 seconds left, a four-point lead and the ball.
Abreu drove through the lane, pump-faked a pass to the wing and spun home a layup to take Akron's lead back to six. It was an impressive take.
Porrini quickly took it back down the court and made a short jumper. Akron leads by four with 27 seconds left.
The Zips got trapped in the backcourt, and were forced to send it to Marshall, who was immediately fouled. He's not the guy you want shooting free throws down the stretch, but you have to use him for his ability to serve as an inbounds target. Marshall is grinning as heads to the line. It's not over yet, big man. He missed both.
Darius Leonard drilled a 3 on the other end -- his first points of the game. Kent State is only down one, with 14.7 seconds left. Akron's ball.
The key will be to inbound the ball to someone other than Marshall, and only use the 7-footer as a last option.
The ball found Darryl Roberts, which is the best-case scenario. There are 11.2 seconds left. He made both.
Porrini took the ball down the court, handed it to Sherman, who passed it right back. Porrini hoisted a 3 with a few seconds left. The shot missed and Marshall secured the rebound and the win.
I'm surprised that Porrini was the player to take the last shot. He had only taken one 3 to that point in the game, and he missed it. Sherman must have been the guy Dambrot focused on in the huddle.
Final score -- Akron 65, Kent State 62
This was a very exciting game. The large crowd got its money's worth.
There is no way Akron would have been close tonight without Marshall's second-half performance. He came up with big rebounds, big blocks and big shots/dunks. Tonight is the first night I can say that Marshall played like a star.
Notable final stats: Both teams shot 38 percent. Akron outrebounded Kent, 41 to 38. Marshall finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Sherman had 19 points and six boards. Akron's bench outscored Kent's, 21 to five.
"It was too clogged up over there and I didn't want to take a crazy shot. Mike Porrini was open over there, so I made the extra pass."
"I think (the new guys) did a great job. Everyone kept their composure. Nobody got rattled. But we need to get stops when it's time to get stops."
"Playing at Akron, it's a great atmosphere, a hostile atmosphere. You got the fans going at you. That's what we play for. Coach Dambrot is a great coach. It just hurts. I wanted to leave with a win."
GENO FORD QUOTES
"We had some tough lineups out there, but I think our kids fought. It's the first time in three games that we showed signs of life. It's hard when you're a freshman and you go into this game and you don't have any concept of the intensity and the atmosphere. In the first half, we had 10 turnovers and they had two steals. That was a telling statistic for me."
"The stretch where we got the lead, we were finishing at the rim."
"I thought (Marshall) played well. The offensive rebound was the killer play. He got one on top of Justin Greene."
"McKnight killed us. He posed so many problems. We were afraid of him picking and popping, and we were switching, which puts our guards on him. The one he hit at the top of the key was unbelievable."
"They have been really good with (McKnight) back. They are a much better team with him. He's difficult to gameplan for. He bothered us the most over the course of the game. Over the course of 40 minutes, he kicked our butt, which he tends to do. I'm glad his father decided to stop having kids."
"I thought (Porrini) made it. We ball-screened for Rod. Rod came off and they double-teamed him. The guy who was supposed to go with Mike didn't go. That's as good of a look as we can ask for."
"We've been in a major rut up until tonight. While I'm not content that we got beat, it's the first sense of toughness we showed in a game. We fought enough to win, but we didn't execute enough to win."
"We have too many younger guys who think they have careers that will last forever. They have no sense of urgency to get better."
"It's a tough league, and there hasn't been a repeat champion in 20 years. You have to play the games and get better. Our basketball team is starting to get better. We have to find ways to get a couple of the guys off the bench to be more productive."
"We'll take our chances with Justin against just about anybody. It's a little bit tougher for him this year because everyone double-teamed Singletary. He's still evolving, still developing. He's had a couple tough shooting games, back-to-back. I didn't feel like he took any bad shots."
"For this being my last home game playing Kent, it means a lot. It feels really good to get this win to start the MAC off."
"I think (coming off the bench) is an advantage. You can see how the game is flowing and you can see how to put your game into the game. You can decipher how their defense is playing and how they'll guard you."
"The good part about our team is that we continue to fight. We find a way to win the game. That's the main part about our team. That's one of the best qualities of our team."
"It was a battle (with Greene). I really had to just go on my instincts. He had a bad night."
"Double-double or not, small plays is where I matter the most. I care about getting the win. Those last few free throws I had, I felt that mattered most. That put us in a bad position."
"I'm getting better. I'm getting more comfortable. I'm just trying to mold out my game to become the dominant big man that I should."
On his vicious dunks: "There was a conflict with another player. I was thinking to throw it down as hard as I can to get that anger out on the rim."
"It was a typical Kent-Akron game. It's been a streaky series. When we first started off, they were better then us. Then we got a little better than them. Then we split."
"(McKnight) is a little more fresh. He's a good offensive player. He has to rebound the ball for us to be better. We're a different team with him. He has his issues but he's a very easy guy to coach."
"I thought we played pretty good, then we just couldn't make a shot. The first four minutes of the second half, we didn't guard very well."
"Zeke did a really good job on (Greene). Zeke tends to get tired a little defensively. At the beginning of the second half, he wasn't good. In the last four minutes of a lot of games, he's really good."
"(The last play) was a coaching dilemma. I figured Darryl would make two free throws. My philosophy is to foul under five (seconds). It came up slow, so I couldn't get my guys to foul. I thought we defended it fairly well. He got a good look, but not a great look."
"Rod Sherman, who I think is one of the best winners in the league, has done a good job of guarding McKnight. I didn't know what they'd do in the second half. He can pick-and-pop you when you don't switch. When Brett McKnight plays good against Kent, we win."
"You add Guyton to that team, and they're a good team. They have some four-man issues. Mark Henniger is going to be a good player, but that's a tough matchup for him (against McKnight)."
"Porrini is my kind of a guy. He's a tough, hard-nosed, gritty, winning kind of guy. He makes a lot of winning plays. I think Alex is probably more skilled, but I don't see any comparison on the toughness level. You have to pick what you want at that position. I like their team. I like their guys. Justin Greene, Rod Sherman. They're nice kids."
"I think (Guyton) is gonna be back. I think it's going to change some things when he gets back. They're a little thin on their bench without him. He gives them pop."
"We were going to double (Greene) when Nik had him. With Zeke, we were going to play one-on-one."
"I told our guys, whether we win or whether we lose, we need to stay even-keeled. This one's a big game, and the last one's a big game. And the ones in the middle are big games. The real game is the third one in the MAC Tournament. It's going to be very interesting to see how it all plays out."
"The hard part is that the East is a grind now still. A lot of people know how to win. The West, we'll see how it goes. It's more close than it's ever been before."
"Our league has to strive to have that kind of atmosphere every night. When I was in the league the first time, it was better (than now). We've slipped a lot in that regard. I don't care if you're Duke (vs.) North Carolina -- you can't get better atmosphere than tonight. It makes for a better game, and it's fun."