KENT: The regular-season basketball champion has been crowned. The seeds for the Mid-American Conference Tournament next week have been established. For all intents and purposes, the final regular-season game tonight at Rhodes Arena means little.
Yet, playing against the University of Akron still means plenty to the Kent State players.
“It’s our big rivalry game, so we want to go in there pumped up, energized and ready to play,” Kent State senior guard Randal Holt said. “It will be big for us to get that win. [A] win [over the Zips] will just add to the snowball of success we’ve had and help keep our team together and focused. It would have our confidence skyrocket high going into the tournament.”
It didn’t seem to faze a handful of the Golden Flashes players Tuesday night that while they were celebrating a Senior Night victory over Bowling Green that helped them clinch a No. 4 seed in the tournament, some 13 miles away the Zips were cutting down a net at Rhodes Arena after clinching the MAC East Division title and top tournament seed.
“We definitely need to get this win against Akron,” senior guard/forward Chris Evans said. “The seeds have been set, but we’re not just happy with that. We definitely want to finish our season on the right note, and getting a win at Akron is a huge, huge motivator for us going into the MAC Tournament next week. We want to get this win, build on it and keep going forward.”
The final regular-season game at Akron (24-5, 14-1 MAC) is a good way for KSU (18-12, 8-7) to measure just how far it has come before tournament play gets under way for them in the quarterfinals Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.
“The seeds being what they are, when we play Akron, we don’t really care about that because they’re our rival,” said junior center Mark Henniger, a former standout at Jackson High School. “We’re all going to be turned up, ready to go. We need the momentum going into the MAC Tournament, so it’s a big game for us.”
The Flashes have won six of their past seven games.
“We know that nobody in the league can beat us when we come to play,” Holt said. “A win against Akron would be great, especially because we’ve lost to them the last couple times we’ve played them. It would be great for us, for the university and for the people of Kent. So we definitely want to bring [a victory] home.”
The Flashes have shown the ability to play with the big boys in spurts all season. In fact, their three best games came against the top two teams in the league in Akron and Ohio. But in those games, KSU struggled to close out each one, losing all three.
So, the question tonight is whether the Flashes can play two full halves.
Offensive runs are a part of any basketball game, but Kent State coach Rob Senderoff believes his team has gotten better at responding to them late in games.
“That’s what makes this team who they are,” he said after the Flashes closed strong against Bowling Green. “You could fold up shop or get panicky and start trying to do things that are outside of yourself. But we stuck to it and that’s what our kids have done basically the whole year.
“We’ve gotten better at that as the season’s gone along. When we played Toledo earlier in the year, if this game would have been then in January, we wouldn’t have been able to find a way to claw back into it. That’s the progress of this group — to be able to find a way to fight back.”
And there will be no bigger test before the postseason to determine just how far the Flashes have come than to measure themselves against the best team in the league.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.