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Heading to the M.A.C. Center is one of my two annual blogging road trips (the Q being the other). I look forward to it. There is almost always something unusual. Two years ago, it was fans throwing things onto the floor. Last year, it was Chris Singletary's sucker punch. Of course, it goes back way longer than that, as the older fans can catalog.
The Kent State athletics folks do a great job for the media, too.
The Flashes' athletic director job will be filled soon with Laing Kennedy's successor. I know of two very, very worthy candidates. Of course, if I endorse them, it won't help one lick. So I'll just publicly congratulate one of them after he/she hopefully gets the job.
With eight minutes before gametime, it looks like we'll have a full house. The student sections are exchanging chants. From Kent: "Screw the roo." From Akron: "What's a Flash?"
The downside to covering this game is that I won't get to hear the sweet, sweet voice of Michael Reghi on ESPNU.
Kent State is favored by between two and 2.5. The over-under is 133.5.
Akron's starters: Brett McKnight, Jimmy Conyers, Zeke Marshall, Steve McNees and Humpty Hitchens. Hitchens also started Wednesday in place of Darryl Roberts, whose ankle isn't 100 percent. Kent's starters: Frank Henry-Ala, Justin Greene, Rodriguez Sherman, Tyree Evans and Chris Singletary.
Hitchens scored Akron's first five points off a layup and a 3-pointer.
Kent State is doing a better job than Akron on the boards. They have three offensive rebounds by my count.
The refs called a technical foul on Conyers for extracurricular shoving. They will certainly be more apt to call the tech considering the shenanigans of years past. Evans made one of two free throws.
Since 2005-06, the MAC has scheduled Akron and Kent to play in the last conference game of the year. That contest has alternated between Rhodes Arena and the M.A.C. Center. It's good they rotate it, because having such an emotional game right before the MAC Tournament probably has a different impact based on who hosts the game.
Sherman stole the ball and dunked on a fast break. Kent State is on a 6-0 run, thanks to some Zips turnovers.
Nik Cvetinovic drove past Brandon Parks for an easy layup. Cvetinovic didn't necessarily get the first step on Parks, either. It was more of just being faster. On the next possession, they called Parks for a blocking foul. That is a matchup the Zips will try to exploit in the next potential 110 minutes of basketball against Kent this year.
Akron already has six team fouls with 12:45 to play in the first half.
McNees drilled a deep 3 to retake the lead for Akron. That is a 7-0 Zips run. Someone told me during the Cavs game on Wednesday that NBA basketball is a game of runs. I told him, "Have you ever watched college basketball?" It seems like the adrenaline of a surge carries a team much further. Having said that, I don't care if Akron mounts a 20-point lead in the first half. This rivalry has proven repeatedly the power of momentum to surmount any lead.
Tom Gaffney made a good point. As we looked out over the Kent student section, he said, "This is what Akron needs." He's right. The Zips student section is only about one-tenth the size of Kent's in terms of area. I'm sure Kent doesn't fill the section during the run-of-the-mill weekday game, but the large area is inviting to students who have not attended a game before and perhaps don't know the protocol for student attendance/participation. The small sections behind each basket at Rhodes Arena suggest they are exclusively for a special club -- and they are.
Mike McKee has run off five straight points to regain the lead for Kent.
After another put-back bucket, Kent State has 12 second-chance points.
So what's the solution to Akron's student problem? I feel that a lot of students do attend Zips games, but they are dispersed among the bleacher sections. Therefore, they don't get into the group atmosphere. Therefore, they probably might not develop the attachment to the team. Therefore, you're leaving a lot of fanbase development on the table. You have heard a lot of chatter about a new basketball arena. The inadequate student section -- along with insufficient concession stand capacity -- are two driving forces toward finding a new home for Zips basketball.
Akron hasn't made a bucket since McNees' 3-pointer -- almost four minutes ago. Neither team is shooting well, but Kent has attempted eight more free throws, as well as two more field goals.
McNees is looking quite comfortable running the point. It might be that Kent's premier backcourt pest of the past four years, Jordan Mincy, is no longer on the roster.
Brett McClanahan is responsible for consecutive field goals. The first looked like a set play, where Zeke fed him a bound pass from the high post to the base line. Then McClanahan faded away for a 10-footer. The second shot was a finger roll off the dribble drive.
Singletary is scoreless on five missed shots and two missed free throws. I guarantee that will change by my next post.
Marshall swatted a Greene layup attempt. Cvetinovic made a layup while getting fouled to extend (what has now become) a Zips lead to four. McClanahan drilled a 3 to make it seven.
Marshall rejected another Green layup, but the Kent sophomore grabbed the loose change and put it back in.
McKee scored his 10th point of the half. Keith Dambrot is doing a great job defending Evans and Singletary (six combined points), but the team keeps losing McKee on the fast break and secondary break.
Halftime stats of note: Akron is shooting 44.8 percent; Kent is 37.9 percent. McKee leads Kent with 10 points; McClanahan has seven for the Zips. Evans, Greene and Marshall each have five rebounds. McNees has three assists. Marshall is responsible for two of the game's five blocked shots. Both teams have committed five turnovers.
There is only about a foot separating the out-of-bounds line and the scorer's table, which leaves very little space for a player to occupy when waiting to check in. Seems dangerous.
The Flashes are starting to work the ball through Singletary, who scored his first basket. They are on a 9-0 run.
Sherman stole the ball from McNees. Roberts tracked Sherman down and, rather than going for the ball, wrapped him up. That made for an easy "intentional foul" call from both refs who were in position.
That makes a 13-0 run. It's getting dangerous now. Akron needs to chip it down to six, rather than let it get up to 15.
Dambrot's teams over the years have suffered from droughts in notable games. It is probably the downside of never allowing the offense to become beholden to a "go-to" player. We haven't seen an Akron field goal in more than 6:30. With a go-to guy, you know who's getting the ball when you really need a bucket. Who is that player on Akron ... Brett McKnight? I don't know.
After a breakaway layup, Kent leads by 18. And it's getting ugly, too, with turnovers, monster swats, etc.
McNees graciously ended Akron's seven-minute futility session. The Zips followed it up with a full-court press that Kent State easily passed around and finished off with an uncontested Parks dunk. Then the Zips went to a zone, which Evans beat with a 3-pointer. It doesn't seem like Dambrot can win with his variations.
Akron got a quick 5-0 spurt from a Hitchens 3 and a Conyers steal that resulted in a McNees transition layup.
After Sherman swished a 25-footer with the shot-clock expiring, I realized it's Kent's night.
Kent's student section revealed a 10 foot-by-4 foot banner reading: "Akron chicks ARE FAT!!" It is now circulating the section, being passed back and forth. After a few minutes of fun for the hippies, a Kent official confiscated the sign. Akron's student section returned the foul play by colluding a chant: "Look at your dance team." ... I thought this was a basketball game, not a swimsuit contest.
Akron is working hard to trap on defense. The problem is, Kent seems to keep getting off the hook, and Akron is unable to capitalize when the Zips do force an error.
I like how Akron is pressing and trapping. It makes me wonder, why doesn't that become a more frequent look? If any team can do it, it's Akron -- a deep team with smart players. The Zips have chipped the lead down to 11 after a three-point play from Chris McKnight.
The game is a sellout, with attendance at 6,204.
Greene is having a fantastic game. He has 21 points and 11 rebounds. While Marshall was in the game, they were having a nice duel. I expect the two to have a nice individual rivalry over the next few years.
For most of the game, the Kent fans in front of me have been more occupied with staring at the AK-Rowdies section than the actual NCAA basketball contest on the hardwood floor. Now that the result is secured, it's really annoying. That goes both ways, of course.
Singletary went down under the hoop after a missed layup. He played possum while Akron took the ball to the other side of the court. He cherry-picked an easy hoop after the Zips scored.
Final stats of note: Greene led both teams with 23 and 13. A total of five Flashes scored in double figures. Singletary had seven assists. Chris McKnight had 13 points and Cvetinovic and Marshall tied for the team lead with six boards. Kent State shot 65.5 percent in the second half. They also outrebounded Akron, 38 to 28.
Now that the first third of the MAC season is complete, I can't say I'm surprised by anything -- except maybe Ohio being 0-4 (and potentially 0-5 after today's game vs. Buffalo). Akron won the game it should have. It lost the games it should have. It would have been nice to compete better at Kent and at Buffalo, but it's just as likely that Akron blows them out at Rhodes Arena. The key will be sweeping the West to secure the first-round bye. Lose a game to one of the MAC West scrubs, and you might have to play on Wednesday at The Q.
Final score -- Akron 70, Kent State 87
"It was great. To be on national TV and get a big win, it's good for us."
"He's 7-foot with long arms. I have to get my body into him to get a good shot. He blocked a couple of my shots but I didn't lose any confidence. I wanted to keep attacking him."
"I didn't think I'd be doing this well."
"I thought I didn't show my emotion enough in the first half. I was too afraid to get too hyped up. Second half, I just let loose and played with emotion and energy, and that's why I had a better second half."
"Coach told us to look ourself in the mirror and ask how we want to end the year and how we want to be remembered. We know that when we defend, we can beat just about anybody in the nation. The offense keeps getting better. The chemistry keeps getting better."
"We did a great job tonight letting our defense help our offense. In the huddle was walking about getting it (the lead) to 10, then getting it to 15."
"When we play defense for 33 seconds, it's tiring. We almost want to slow it down. Making the other team play defense for 30 seconds helps."
"It was really important. Just having that energy. When somebody hit a big 3, the place went crazy. It was easy to feed off the energy and play defense."
"Having Mike (McKee) step up like that, allowed me to just focus on the defensive end, seeing that Mike had it going on the offensive end. We have five or six guys who can put up double figures on a given night."
"Every big man I play with, I try to get him easy baskets because that helps on the defensive end. Justin's a great player. He knows how to adjust to the game. He's going to find a way to score. He knows how to use his body, finish right hand, finish left hand, using the rim to block the defender."
"We've just been focusing on going inside-out. Coach wants us to push the ball, but he also wants us to be smart. We've been sharing the ball, playing smart. We want to make them play defense as well."
"We had to have pressure at all times. We wanted to make them drive. We wanted to be out on their shooters."
"Our bench gave us a lot of energy."
Greene "stepped up to the challenge. He stayed with it. We trust Justin."
"We just didn't guard as well as we should have. They had too many easy buckets. We knew it would be hard coming in here. It always is. The crowd is always great here. We didn't handle that well in the second half at all. They converted. We didn't convert as well as we should have. We have to do better when everything hits the fan."
"Greene got going early. When the monster's hungry, you've gotta be able to feed him. That's what they were doing."
"We knew we had to stay composed. They have great shooters. You have to be able to make plays, finish and play defense. Being up seven is not that big of a margin."
"I think they physically manhandled us. Really from the get-go. They physically gave it to us. I didn't think we handled adversity well. I've said it many times, they have some of the best talent in the league."
"I thought they had a good gameplan. Our guys tried to play hard and come back. I'm not going to play to play close. We pressed, and that's not really our cup of tea."
"We're not going to win many games when it's 35-35 at halftime. I thought we did a very poor job of keeping it out of Singletary's hands. They played through him exclusively in the second half. That put pressure on us because he's a terrific passer."
"We have to do a better job at handling adversity. We have shown tendency to multiply mistakes."
"We're 9-0 when we hold people under 60. We just don't have capability to score like that. We took the easy way out. We reached. Usually the tougher team wins. It's not surprising. They're good in here. Both teams played with some class tonight. Instead of fighting each other, we decided we are the best two teams in the league in the past five years."
"I didn't even know it was 19-0. I just knew they were kicking our behinds. It's a game of spurts. They got the spurts. We didn't handle adversity, and they handled prosperity. We have to become fighters when things go poorly."
"Justin Greene can't get 23 points and 13 rebounds, and you can't expect to win. It's just like Brett McKnight getting 29 in our place last year."
"Jimmy's technical foul. Not very smart. We can't have him get three rebounds."
"In the second half, Zeke tired a little bit. He was terrific in the first half. But he's going to be good. He showed me he has no nervousness."
"He (Greene) has not shown he can go to his right shoulder, but we kept letting him go to his left shoulder."
"We built the program on toughness. Toughness can be described two ways. Physical toughness, they took it to us around the rim. We generally have held our own in the post. They got 13 offensive rebounds. We got nine. They got more easy ones around the rim. And then, mental toughness. We came at their throat early, they handled it. When they came at our throats, we couldn't handle it. It's something that's hard to work on. It's something that this team has to do better."
"When 6,200 are in this building, Kent's not going to lose too often. When we get 6,200 in our building, we're not going to lose often. When it gets loud, we puckered up."
"This is the same team that we had that was 9-8 last year. This is the same team, without Linhart. We're going to have nights that, despite what people think, we're not the best team in the league. It's not the best team we've ever had. But it's a team that can develop, because the big boy is gonna get bigger."
"If we get hit in the mouth a couple times, then we get hit in the mouth a couple times. It's not going to kill us. I've coached too long to let one game affect me."
On Geno Ford changing up his lineup: "Sometimes you've gotta be hard on your guys to get better. They played tonight like the best team in the league."
"We have inconsistencies, but they do, too. We're trapping them, and they're struggling. You know who saved them, right? Singletary. They're in trouble. They ball went through Singletary. Zips are in trouble. The ball went through Wood. The ball went through Rome. The ball went through Brett McKnight. He wasn't too good tonight."
"When things went bad, we tried to do things on our own. We tried to play one-on-one. I'm not worried about not having a go-to guy. I'm not disappointed losing here. I just wish we played better in the second half."