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‘Story of our season is still open’: Men’s basketball drops second in a row to Akron

Debonaire Wright
Jr. Jalen Sullinger looks to make a pass in the Flashes game against Akron February 23, 2024.
Highlights from February 23rd’s game.

For the first time since 2021, the Kent State men’s basketball team lost both regular season games to Akron.

The Zips defeated KSU 83-70 Friday in James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron.

“I’m disappointed we lost — we didn’t defend in the second half the way we needed to,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “I’m proud of our effort, and the story of our season is still open.”

The teams last met Jan. 19 in Kent, where Akron defeated the Flashes 77-71.

UA (20-7, 12-2 MAC) is the first Mid-American Conference team to reach 20 wins this season.

In the first half, both teams struggled to score as Akron led 12-9 through 10 minutes of play.

Senior guard Giovanni Santiago had five points to lead the Flashes early on.

Chris Payton Jr. blocks a shot late in the game against Akron on Feb. 23, 2024 (Debonaire Wright)

After a 7-2 run from Akron, Santiago and junior guard Jalen Sullinger hit three-pointers to cut the deficit to 21-17 with five minutes remaining in the half.

The Flashes (13-14, 6-8 MAC) then closed the half out on a 13-9 run before an Akron steal and dunk. The Zips led 32-27 after 20 minutes. 

Santiago and Sullinger led Kent State with eight points apiece while the team shot 38% from the field and 39% from three. 

The Zips shot 46% from the field while shooting 4-of-5 from the free throw line compared to the Flashes’ zero attempts. 

In the second half, Akron scored two quick buckets to lead 34-29 before its leading scorer, senior forward Enrique Freeman, picked up his third foul. 

Despite Freeman having to sit, the Zips went on a 9-3 run, including back-to-back three-pointers to lead 43-32 with 15 minutes left.

Over the next five minutes, Kent State outscored Akron 16-10 behind five points from Sullinger and four from Santiago. 

With ten minutes remaining, the Flashes cut the Zips’ lead to 50-48.

Akron then responded with a quick 8-0 run in the next minute to rebuild their lead to 58-48.

Jr. Guard Mike Bekelja contests a shot late in the game against Akron February 23, 2024. (Debonaire Wright)

“We have to guard at a high level, but we didn’t do enough defensively tonight,” Senderoff said. “We’re not going to win when we give up 50 points in the second half.”

The Zips stayed on a steady pace and led 67-59 after a Freeman and-one with five minutes to go. 

“Defensively was where our issues were tonight,” Senderoff said. “We did a much better job of (scoring) tonight, but we didn’t keep the ball in front, and we gave up way too many easy baskets.”

Kent State could not make a run, leading to Akron sealing the victory.

Sullinger led the Flashes with 20 points, while graduate student forward Chris Payton Jr. and senior forward VonCameron Davis had 14 and 13 points, respectively. 

For the Zips, four players finished with 14 or more points: Freeman (24), senior guard Greg Tribble (15), senior guard Mikal Dawson (14) and senior forward Ali Ali (14).

The Flashes shot 47% from the field as a team and made nine shots from behind the arc. Akron shot 50% and made eight three-pointers. 

Sullinger and Dawson each connected on four three-pointers in the contest.  

Next up, Kent State will return home to face Buffalo Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.

In the season’s first contest, KSU defeated the Bulls (4-22, 2-11 MAC) 83-52 Feb. 2.

Buffalo is one of three teams in the MAC, including Western Michigan (9-17, 6-7 MAC) and Northern Illinois (9-17, 3-10 MAC), to not to reach double-digit wins.  

“The next four games will determine if we will play in Cleveland,” Senderoff said. “There are four games left to get there, and we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Matt Franos is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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Michael Neenan, Reporter
Michael Neenan is a sophomore journalism major who enjoys two things: writing and sports. Contact him at [email protected]

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