There was a moment in the University of Akron’s 84-75 victory over arch-rival Kent State when you could tell that the game was over.
Forward Nick Harney had just thrown down a slam dunk with 4:50 to go to give the Zips a 76-63 lead, a hard-earned one considering that they had come back from a 10-point deficit, and Harney just smiled.
The sophomore from Cleveland’s 21 points, which led the Zips, were a significant reason for the win.
Harney had an offensive night — 10-of-12 shooting — that most players dream of, which led to a career high in points, besting his previous high of 15.
“I just think I reached that point that every player has,” Harney said. “You’ve just competed so long, you feel like you just lifted a weight off you, and the tempo is high and you’re just playing your heart out. It’s just passion.”
The Zips needed plenty of passion to pull a victory away from the feisty Golden Flashes, and they went deep into their roster to get it, with nine Akron players hitting the scoreboard.
Akron walked into the locker room trailing 42-34 after Kent closed the half with a 19-6 run to seemingly take control of the game.
“We got punched in the gut and I didn’t know if we were going to recover or not. We just emotionally looked like we were done,” coach Keith Dambrot said.
Dambrot said he talked to his team about playing aggressively on defense at halftime. It had the desired effect.
“We realized that we can’t give up that many points in the first half,” guard Chauncey Gilliam said. “We looked up at the scoreboard and I think it was 42 points we gave up in the first half. That’s unacceptable, so we had to kick it up a little bit.”
That kick didn’t arrive until much later in the game as the Flashes came out and built on their lead modestly. With 13:21 left in the game, Kent found itself with a nine-point lead and a smidgen of momentum.
It didn’t last for long.
Guard Brett McClanahan began a three-point assault that junior forward Quincy Diggs continued with two consecutive three-pointers. The attack ended when big man Nick Cvetinovic nailed a three-pointer with 11:02 left in the game to give the Zips a 58-55 lead, their first since the 3:55 mark of the first half and one that they didn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
“I feel like after Q hit those threes, it took a lot out of them,” Harney said. “They started playing stagnant and just trying to create for themselves and not really playing like they were in the first half. They got out of their game it seemed like.”
That inflicted the necessary damage on the Golden Flashes.
“It was very deflating, but in the same sense, we got open looks ourselves and we didn’t hit them,” said Kent guard Randal Holt, who led all scorers with 27 points. “Credit Akron. They hit the big shots when it came down to it. Right now, we’re just trying to find our way to win big games down the stretch.”
The Zips reeled off a 28-6 run to take charge of the first game of the season series.
“The momentum really changed there, and that’s really been a problem for the last couple games for us,” Kent coach Rob Senderoff said. “Once the momentum shifts away from us, we’ve had a tough time fighting through it and making a run back. And I think that was probably the game right there.”
The loss sent Kent home looking for answers as it prepares to take on Northern Illinois on Wednesday.
“Akron made the stops we didn’t and that’s how we lost the MAC championship game [last year],” said Kent forward Justin Greene. “We have to learn from this. We’re not going to get too many more chances.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com. Follow the Zips on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.