Flashes renew rivalry with Akron in regular season finale

Senior forward Darren Goodson attempts to defend the ball from an Akron player at the game Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. The Flashes are set to face the Zips again this Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 at the University of Akron. It is the last game before the M.A.C. Championship.

Richie Mulhall

Only one last game stands between the end of the Flashes’ regular season and the Mid-American Conference Tournament, which will begin on Monday following the conclusion of all the MAC teams’ regular season.

The Flashes (16-14, 7-10 MAC) will have one last regular season hurrah before the tournament, and what better way to close the season than with an all-out battle against Akron (19-11, 11-6 MAC), Kent State’s in-conference foe and longtime rival.

It has already been over a month since these two adversaries met Feb. 1 inside the M.A.C. Center, but people are still buzzing about that game’s eye-popping finish.

Kent State senior forward Darren Goodson banked a game-winning three-point shot off the glass just before the buzzer with one second remaining on the game clock. His shot was 28 feet out, but it didn’t matter; The shot went in and the game was all she wrote as Flashes stormed the court as the final score on the scoreboard lit up the 60-57 Kent State win.

The Zips attempted to answer Goodson’s poised shot by launching a prayer of their own in the final second of regulation, but senior forward Mark Henniger swatted it down with authority.

Make no mistake about it: Akron has probably not forgotten that shot. In this sport, a short memory is essential to have, especially in a tradition-steeped rivalry like the Kent State/Akron matchup.

After Kent State’s first win against the Zips, the Flashes can be sure that Akron will want to settle the score with them as the Flashes enter enemy territory the first time this 2013-2014 season.

“Akron is Akron; Win or lose the game before it, it’s obviously a rivalry,” Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff said. “We had a great win against them the first time we played them, and we’re gonna have to play really well at their place. You know they’re gonna want to win.”

Akron will look to defend its home turf Friday against an eager Kent State team fighting desperately to obtain a first-round home game on Monday.

Other determinants factor into the Flashes’ odds of receiving a first-round home game — Kent State must win and either Northern Illinois or Miami must lose in order for the Flashes claim the No. 7 seed in the tourney — but a win definitely wouldn’t hurt their chances.

Despite all the tournament speculation that’s been circulating about the MAC, Senderoff said he only wants his team to put all of that in the back of their minds and focus on the current task at hand, which is beating and sweeping Akron Friday.

Tournament stakes aside, Senderoff predicts that Akron’s game will be big.

“I know we’ll play hard, there’s no doubt about it,” Senderoff said. “Regardless of the stakes in the game, it’s Kent, Akron, whenever you play them. Because of the rivalry [alone], it’s an important game.”

The Akron game will be an important game — as Senderoff stated — also because it is a game that may set the bar for the Flashes postseason performance.

Senderoff said his team has battled doing the “little things” right all year in this up-and-down season, and will continue to do so as the season winds down.

“We have to be able to finish at the basket. There are some things we need to do better, but most importantly, we need to compete really, really hard Friday and compete really, really hard on Monday, regardless of who we play,” said Senderoff. “It’s just gotta be a mentality of how we come in and attack the game.”

One Kent State player who came in Tuesday’s game against Miami off the bench and gave the Flashes high quality minutes was sophomore guard K.K. Simmons.

Simmons, who only averages 12.9 minutes of work per game, came into the game and provided his struggling team with a late second-half push. He scored nine total points in the second half, but the most impressive part of Simmons’ performance was the amount of damage he was able to do in such a short amount of time.

In just 12 minutes of action, Simmons recorded nine points, two steals, one assist and one rebound.

Senderoff said putting guys into games who can come off the bench, like Simmons and junior forward Devareaux Manley, can contribute to the team late in games where their high intensity, offensive styles of play can pay dividends.

“[Simmons] brings some offense to us and he enters the game, he’s got a fearless offensive mindset going to attack,” Senderoff said. “Whoever enters from the bench, we’re gonna need that from them, and we’re gonna need it from the starters as well.”

The Flashes will need starting senior forward Darren Goodson who was recognized before the Miami game as part of Senior Night Tuesday, to step up Friday and play the way he played the last time against Akron. Goodson scored Kent State’s last eight points in that contest and hit the game-winning shot.

There is just something about playing Akron that gets Goodson going, and when he is on, he can virtually change the complexion of the game.

“We need him to step up as a senior, we need [Mark Henniger] to step up as a senior, and we need the whole group to play well,” Senderoff said.

Friday night’s tip-off is at 7 p.m. inside the James A. Rhodes Arena.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].