Basketball hosts rival Akron Friday


Kent State guard, Kellon Thomas, goes for the basket in against University of Toledo on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Kent State lost 67-82.

Zac Sommer

It started with a wagon wheel and ended with a rivalry series between two Northeast Ohio schools that dates back to 1923.

For the first time this season, the Kent State men’s basketball team (17-9, 8-5 Mid-American Conference) will play host to its crosstown rival, the University of Akron (21-5, 10-3 MAC), on Friday at the M.A.C. Center.

Although Akron sits atop the MAC standings, both teams are coming off of solid wins. The Flashes recently knocked off Western Michigan University (10-16, 4-9 MAC) 85-78 in overtime, while the Zips earned an 80-70 win over University of Buffalo (14-12, 7-6 MAC) Tuesday night.

“Any win and every win is important” coach Rob Senderoff said. “Friday for us is a big game because it is Akron, but (also) because we only have two more home games left. It would be great to find a way to win both of those games. Each win in this league is tough and hard-fought.”

Friday’s game marks the first meeting between the two teams this season, after Akron took a 53-51 win over Kent State, eliminating the Flashes in the quarterfinals of last year’s Mid-American Conference Tournament. 

Six days prior to Kent State’s brief appearance in the MAC tournament, the Flashes beat Akron 79-77 after former guard Kris Brewer took the ball the length of the court and laid it in right at the final buzzer. The win gave the the Flashes a share of the regular season MAC Championship.

The two teams split the regular season series 1-1.

Kent State has been without redshirt senior guard Xavier Pollard, who has been sidelined for the remainder of the season with a fractured foot that happened in the first half of a game against Ohio University on Jan. 29. Pollard is averaging 12.2 points per game and a team high three assist in 21 games.

Senior guard Galal Cancer has stepped up offensively in the wake of losing Pollard. Cancer is coming off a career-high 24-point night against Western Michigan Tuesday.

“I’m definitely feeling comfortable,” Cancer said. “I’m just shooting with confidence,” Cancer said.  “They aren’t all going to go in, but that comes with getting extra shots and just being comfortable with the shots that I take.”

Redshirt junior guard Kellon Thomas is also coming off of a big night after tallying 15 points and five assists.

“I’m just doing whatever it takes to win,” Thomas said. “These games always come down to a couple possessions and they are always hard-fought. We just have to grind it out every night and whatever it takes, I’m going to do it.”

Redshirt junior forward Jimmy Hall leads the Flashes this year, averaging 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds through 26 games.

Playing home at the M.A.C. Center could prove to be an advantage for Kent State as the Flashes have an 11-2 record at home this season.

Junior center Isaiah Johnson leads the way for Akron, averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Antino Jackson adds 11.8 points.

The Zips are 6-5 on the road, with their most recent loss coming from Northern Illinois University (18-8, 7-6 MAC), who the Flashes beat 75-74 earlier this season on Feb. 9.

Friday’s contest will be broadcasted on ESPNU, with tip-off set for 6 p.m.

Zac Sommer is a sports reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]