Flashes come up short in semifinals loss to Akron

Nick Shook

MAC Roundup

In a suspenseful weekend of Mid-American Conference basketball, the Ohio Bobcats emerged as the conference tournament champions with a thrilling 64-63 victory over Akron Saturday night.

Ohio guard and MAC Tournament MVP D.J. Cooper scored 23 points to lead the Bobcats to their second tournament title in three years. Akron guard Alex Abreu led the Zips with 19 points and joined Cooper on the conference’s all-tournament team.

Also included on the All-MAC tournament team are Ohio’s Nick Kellogg, Buffalo’s Mitchell Watt and Kent State’s Justin Greene.

Watt, the MAC Player of the Year, scored a career-high 32 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in Buffalo’s 77-74 semifinal loss to Ohio on Friday night.

Greene scored 23 points in the Flashes’ quarterfinal victory over Western Michigan and added 20 in Kent State’s semifinal loss to Akron on Friday

Kellogg was a surprising pick, as the sophomore guard made two of three 3-pointers in the semifinal victory over Buffalo to finish with eight points and managed just nine points in the Bobcats’ one-point victory over Akron.

Kent State (21-11, 10-6 MAC) will travel to South Carolina to take on South Carolina-Upstate in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. USC Upstate finished second in the Atlantic Sun Conference after posting a record of 20-12 (13-5, A-Sun). Thursday will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

Ohio will travel as the 13th seed to Nashville, Tenn., to face fourth-seed Michigan in the NCAA Tournament.

Akron earned the conference’s automatic bid to the National Invitation Tournament as the regular season champions, and will face Northwestern Tuesday at 9 p.m.

A missed shot here, and a missed rebound there added up to Kent State missing the chance to win a Mid-American Conference Tournament title, and an NCAA Tournament berth.

The Flashes trailed Akron by single digits for most of the second half and were one or two plays away from gaining the lead, but just couldn’t do enough to complete a comeback attempt, falling in the MAC Tournament semifinals 78-74.

“They just made a couple more plays than we did,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “Our kids battled. I couldn’t be prouder of how they played, how together they played. At the end of the day, Akron just made a couple more plays than us, whether it was toughness plays or loose balls or offensive rebounds or making tough shots.”

The Flashes started the second half on a 6-0 run to quickly overcome a five-point halftime deficit and take a 42-41 lead. Akron followed with three consecutive 3-pointers to eliminate Kent State’s only lead of the second half, but the Flashes continued to compete throughout the rest of the game.

“They’re a tough team,” senior guard Michael Porrini said. “It’s the tournament. We made a run, they made a run.”

Kent State appeared to be on the verge of taking its second lead of the half with 5:40 left to play. Junior guard Randal Holt made two free throws to bring the Flashes within five. Kent State sophomore guard Eric Gaines stole Akron’s following pass and led a fast break in the other direction with Kent State outnumbering Akron 3-to-1 in transition.

Gaines looked off a defender and fired a pass in the direction of Holt, but Akron guard Alex Abreu intercepted the pass and not only stopped Kent State’s fast break opportunity, but also the Flashes’ momentum.

“I saw the three on one,” Abreu said. “I went with my instincts and I read him like a book.”

“I just saw him jump out into the passing lane,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “[Abreu] has terrific instincts. He has such a tremendous feel as to where to throw the ball, what to do.”

“It happens, Abreu with the big steal when we were down five,” Greene said. “We’re not mad at Eric or anything. It happens. Like I said, they made all the plays…it was deflating, I’m not going to lie. But like Mike [Porrini] said, we’ve just got to move on.”

Akron kept the Flashes from making it a one-possession game and led by no less than six points until the final 30 seconds of the game.

Holt led a desperate comeback attempt in the last half-minute, making two 3-pointers in 12 seconds to bring Kent State within two points of tying the game.

But the late shots proved to be nothing more than the source of false hope for Kent State fans, as Abreu made two free throws with 15.2 seconds to extend Akron’s lead to 78-74. Kent State’s junior forward Chris Evans missed a corner 3-pointer on the Flashes’ final possession, and the conference tournament ended as the buzzer sounded for Kent State.

“We made a little run at the end, but they were able to keep their lead,” Porrini said. “They’re a good team.”

“Akron beat us at our place, they beat us at their place, they beat us on a neutral floor,” Senderoff said. “You’ve got to give credit to them. It wasn’t a lack of execution. It wasn’t a lack of effort. It seemed like every time there was a loose ball, it seemed to go into their hands. It’s not like our kids weren’t playing hard. They were playing hard. They made some big plays when they needed to make them.”

“They made the huge plays down the stretch. They got the loose balls, the offensive rebounds,” Greene said. “Credit to them.”

Kent State has received an invitation to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, but has not yet confirmed its participation in the postseason tournament.

With the loss, Kent State finished the season with a 21-11 record. Akron completed its first three-game sweep of Kent State since 2007. Akron lost its championship match the next night to Ohio, 64-63.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].