Flashes enter postseason after Wagon Wheel loss at Akron

Jaylin Walker poses after making a three-pointer during Kent State’s 67-65 loss at Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena on March 2, 2018. 

Cameron Hoover

Kent State was held without a field goal for the final 6:02 and scoreless for the last 3:38 as the Flashes offense faltered down the stretch in a 67-65 slugfest loss to crosstown rival Akron Friday night.

The pace of the game slowed to a crawl at points and a halt at others as the two teams combined to shoot 41 free throws in the second half. Akron (13-17, 6-12 Mid-American Conference) attempted more free throws in the second half (17-for-25) than field goals (8-for-21).

Kent State (15-16, 9-9 MAC) finished the game with 25 personal fouls, including five each for Kevin Zabo, Adonis De La Rosa and Danny Pippen. It’s the first time this season three Flashes have been disqualified. Akron also had two players foul out.

“Give Akron credit for playing physical and making the game physical,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “It was tough when they shot more free throws than field goals in the second half. You’ve got to get stops without fouling.”

Both teams struggled in the final minutes; neither team scored a field goal in the last 6:12 of the game. The Zips made 11 free throws in that stretch of time compared to Kent State’s five. Akron freshman guard Eric Parrish made two free throws to give Akron the two-point advantage they would go on to win by with 3.6 seconds left.

Junior point guard Jalen Avery ran the distance of the court off the ensuing inbounds pass but couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.

Daniel Utomi led the Zips with 20 points, thanks to an 11-for-15 mark from the charity stripe, and added eight rebounds. Jimond Ivey and Malcolm Duvivier, who exploded for 27 points in the two teams’ last meeting, chipped in with 10 points apiece.

Zabo scored 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds, both team-highs, for the Flashes, in what will most likely be his final Wagon Wheel game. Jaylin Walker made two three-pointers en route to a 15-point night, and Avery chipped in with 10.

The Flashes and Zips split the Wagon Wheel series, 1-1, for the sixth straight year. Kent State needed to win to have a chance at a No. 4 seed and a first-round bye to Quicken Loans Arena in next week’s MAC Tournament.

Even though such a close loss to a hated rival can deflate a team’s morale, especially heading into the postseason, Senderoff said the loss will only last as long as his team lets it.

“That’ll be up to our guys,” Senderoff said. “I’m going to move on by the end of the night. We’ve got to play somebody on Monday night. I’ll be ready at practice, and I hope our guys are. If we’re not, then we’re not just winning because we’re at home, unless we play harder and compete more together than the team we’re playing against.”

After Central Michigan’s 84-71 win over Western Michigan Saturday morning, Kent State locked in its spot as the No. 5 seed in the MAC Tournament. The Flashes will host a first-round matchup against No. 12 seed Northern Illinois at 7 p.m. Monday at the M.A.C. Center. 

The two teams met once before during this season’s conference opener, a 75-61 Huskies home win. Northern Illinois’ Levi Bradley scored 25 points and 14 rebounds in the win.

Cameron Hoover is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].