Kent State men’s basketball falls short against Akron

Sophomore forward Mark Henniger grabs for a jump ball at the beginning of the Akron game in the MAC center on Jan. 19. Kent State was defeated by Akron 71-67 during the televised Wagon Wheel game. Photo by STACY GRAHAM.

Sophomore forward Mark Henniger grabs for a jump ball at the beginning of the Akron game in the MAC center on Jan. 19. Kent State was defeated by Akron 71-67 during the televised Wagon Wheel game. Photo by STACY GRAHAM.

Tim Dorst

When the Kent State and Akron men’s basketball teams met once again on the parquet floor of the M.A.C Center Saturday afternoon, the 6,313 fans in attendance were prepared for yet another exciting chapter in the rivalry between two neighboring schools.

The crowd brought a high level of spirit for both sides, the famed Wagon Wheel made an appearance at halftime along with new head football coach Paul Haynes, and both teams showed the kind of fight and determination that has come to be expected when the Flashes and the Zips battle for bragging rights.

After the first half, it appeared the Flashes were going to end a four-game slide against the Zips and pull off an improbable victory against the top team in their division. Then, momentum shifted over to the Zips’ side, and two clutch plays by Akron proved to be the difference maker.

The Zips (13-4, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) erased a 10-point halftime deficit to ultimately take a 71-67 win over the Flashes (11-7, 2-2 MAC) Saturday, Akron’s fifth-straight win over Kent State dating back to the 2010-2011 season.

The Flashes helped the lead early in the game and kept the score close when they were trailing, but the Zips’ playmaking down the stretch left Kent State with one more tough loss.

“We played very hard and competed very hard,” Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff said. “We competed the way we want to compete for the most part. Akron did a great job on the offensive glass in particular in the second half and then they made two huge plays when they needed to make them. You’ve got to give them credit for that.”

Kent State was able to build its lead in the first half primarily because of its aggressiveness in rebounding the basketball. The Flashes snatched every offensive rebound they could, totaling 11 in the half and giving them extra opportunities to score.

Much of their first half scoring came from junior forward Darren Goodson, who sparked the Flashes by converting on a difficult layup and drawing a foul from Akron’s Pat Forsythe with his team down by four points. Goodson made the free throw and followed up later with a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Flashes a 27-24 lead.

Goodson, who scored all 14 of his points in the first half, said he wanted to do whatever he could to help his team win and be aggressive in his offensive approach.

“I was open, my teammates found me in the first half and I made shots,” Goodson said. “I got the same open look in the second half and just didn’t knock it down, but we still had a chance to win. But we didn’t get it.”

Kent State took a 36-26 lead into the locker room at halftime after a 16-2 run, with the momentum seemingly pointing in the team’s favor. However, as the second half began, Akron started to match the Flashes’ intensity from the first half and slowly whittled away Kent State’s lead.

Behind forward Demetrius Treadwell and center Zeke Marshall, the Zips put together a 14-4 run around the middle of the second half and took a 51-50 lead on a jumper by forward Chauncey Gilliam at the 8:28 mark.

Treadwell gathered a career-high 16 rebounds, while Marshall added 11 more. The Zips out-rebounded the Flashes 51-39, a stat that senior forward Chris Evans said played a major part in the second half swing.

“They killed us on the glass,” Evans said. “If we don’t rebound the ball, most the time we’re going to lose. We need to do a better job rebounding the basketball, especially when they have such a big frontline.”

Evans helped the Flashes regain the lead shortly after Akron took it from them. After snagging a long pass from senior guard Randal Holt, Evans drove to the rim and scooped the ball into the hoop while falling down, making the Kent State crowd erupt in a flurry of cheers.

Evans drew a foul on the shot and converted on the and-one play for three of his 19 points.

Later in the half, sophomore guard Kris Brewer scored on a swooping move to the basket and made three free throws to give Kent State a 63-60 lead as the game moved within two and a half minutes remaining. Akron came back with two fateful plays — back-to-back three pointers by guards Alex Abreu and Brian Walsh from nearly the same spot on the court — and suddenly the Zips were the ones leading by three.

“Alex makes them all when they need him to,” Senderoff said. “I’ve seen it many, many times, so give him credit for making it. Then (the Zips) come right back down, similar action, we went under the screen and Brian Walsh hit it. Give him credit.”

Brewer responded on the next possession with a 3-pointer of his own to tie the game again at 66, but the Flashes never regained a lead. A series of free throws by Marshall in the waning seconds put the game – and the potential win – just out of reach.

With the game as close as it was for much of the second half, Senderoff felt that just a few more plays made by the Flashes could’ve influenced, and possibly changed, the result of the contest.

“If we get a stop, in particular when we were up by three, it’s probably a different outcome,” Senderoff said. “But we didn’t, and that’s why (the Zips) are very, very good because they make those plays when they need to.”

The loss was disappointing to players like Evans, who is now 0-4 against Akron since joining the Flashes. But Evans said the team’s record against the Zips is much more important, and added that losing a hard-fought game like this one is tough to deal with.

“It’s definitely disappointing whenever you lose any game,” Evans said. “No one game is more important than the other. We prepare every game the same, so tonight we definitely should’ve won. You definitely get disappointed when you have an opportunity to win and it slips by in the last five minutes.”

Evan said he feels that if his team continues to compete the way it did against Akron, the Flashes will be on the right track moving forward. The resiliency of the players and their ability to come back strong from a loss like this is something about which Senderoff seems confident.

“We played really hard, and we didn’t win,” Senderoff said. “So that’s not easy to come back from, but our kids have been resilient throughout the year. I expect us to be resilient and to really compete hard against Bowling Green.”

The Flashes return to action Wednesday night on the road against Bowling Green. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].