Flashes basketball falls short in MAC Tournament semifinal loss to Akron


Chelsae Ketchum

Senior forward Chris Evans makes his way down the court against junior forward Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell from the Akron at the MAC Tournament on Friday, March 15, 2013. The Flashes ended a 6-game winning streak falling to the Zips 59-62. Photo by Chelsae Ketchum

Tim Dorst

CLEVELAND –– With the season series between Kent State and Akron tied at 1-1, it was only fitting that the two rivals meet again in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament. The Flashes and the Zips engaged in a physical game with both sides trading baskets and leads throughout the second half.

It was another game for the Flashes that was ultimately decided in the final minutes. Unfortunately for them, it was another one that went the other way.

The Zips held off the Flashes late and escaped with a 62-59 win Friday at Quicken Loans Arena to advance to the championship round of the MAC Tournament.

Kent State (20-13, 9-7 MAC) saw its hope of a conference championship fall just short of becoming a reality following a hard-fought battle against the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Head coach Rob Senderoff said the Zips just made a couple more plays than the Flashes did when the game was on the line.

“They deserved to win,” Senderoff said. “I felt like we deserved to win too, but only one team wins these kinds of games. At the end of the day, they just made more plays than we made.”

The Flashes had a couple chances to take the lead with less than 30 seconds left in the game. Senior guard Randal Holt shot a contested 3-point jumper from the right wing that bounced off the rim before getting batted out of bounds by Akron. Holt had one last chance to put his team ahead, but his 3-pointer from the left corner hit the back of the rim and into the hands of Akron’s Brian Walsh.

While they struggled at the foul line (13-for-29), the Zips made three free throws in the final seconds to close out the game.

Holt said he shot the last two shots with confidence and thought they were good looks, but they just did not go in for him.

“I think we got some good looks as a team late,” Holt said. “On top of the rim and from the perimeter. They just didn’t fall for us.”

The Flashes shot just 36 percent from the field in the game, compared to the Zips’ 48 percent.

Zips center Zeke Marshall, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, controlled the game on both ends of the floor for much of the evening, recording 18 points, 10 rebounds and a game-high seven blocks. The Flashes struggled with scoring around the rim with Marshall finding a way to disrupt nearly every shot that came his way.

Senderoff said he felt his team attacked Akron’s defense on multiple occasions, but Marshall and the Zips responded the way they have all season.

“They’re the best defensive team in our league with the best defensive player in our league,” Senderoff said. “I felt like we went strong to the basket a number of times, and [Marshall] blocked a bunch of shots and affected some others that he didn’t block. They have a lot of length, and they bother you around the rim.”

The Zips also found a way to contain senior forward Chris Evans, who led the Flashes to a quarterfinal victory over Buffalo Thursday night. Friday’s game was a different story, as Evans scored just six points on 1-for-11 shooting and turned the ball over three times.

“I attacked the rim like I always do,” Evans said. “But Zeke was able to come from the weak side and contest some shots and block some shots. That was the difference.”

Neither team gained a solid advantage in the first half as the Flashes and the Zips jockeyed for position for the first 20 minutes. A dunk by forward Demetrius Treadwell off an alley-oop pass from guard Jake Kretzer shifted momentum slightly and put Akron ahead 26-19.

In the closing seconds of the first half, Evans drove around his defender and slammed home a powerful dunk over Marshall while drawing a foul on the 7-footer. Evans made the free throw, but the Flashes trailed 32-29 at the half.

Kent State would gain the lead early in the second half, highlighted by a 3-pointer by Holt and a fastbreak dunk by junior guard Bryson Pope. Pope’s steal and dunk at the other end put the Flashes ahead 46-43.

The Flashes ramped up their defensive efforts later in the second half and forced the Zips to turn the ball over four straight times, part of Akron’s 17 turnovers for the game. Four free throws from sophomore guard Kris Brewer and another 3-pointer by Holt helped the Flashes take a 57-54 lead.

Akron responded with a pair of layups by Marshall and Treadwell to take the lead right back, and the Flashes had less than a minute to avoid elimination. Senderoff said with the way Marshall was disrupting shots in the paint, he wanted a shot from the outside to be the Flashes’ focus offensively.

“We ran a quick hitter that we wanted for three,” Senderoff said. “Randal’s shot didn’t go in, and we got another chance. You couldn’t get a better look than we did, but it just didn’t go in.”

Holt led the Flashes with 19 points, but he and the rest of the team fell just one shot short.

It was the last chance for seniors Evans and Holt to play in their first NCAA tournament, and Senderoff said he feels bad that they will not get the opportunity to do that.

“It’s disappointing that we’re not going to play in that tournament,” Senderoff said. “It is really emotionally taxing when you lose a game like this, but that is sort of how our guys have been all along with fighting back the way we have. There’s no one more disappointed that [Evans] and [Holt] aren’t playing in the NCAA Tournament than me.”

If the Flashes do not receive a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, Senderoff said the Flashes will compete in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament and host a first-round game Tuesday at the M.A.C. Center.

Ticket prices will be $20 for courtside seating, $10 for lower level reserve seating and $5 for upper level general admission seating.

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].