Flashes’ men’s basketball falls to Akron in season finale

Nick Shook

Kent State (20-10, 10-6 MAC) didn’t have a chance to win the Mid-American Conference regular season title, but it didn’t want Akron (21-10, 13-3 MAC) to do so on the Flashes’ home court.

The Zips did just that by going on a 22-2 run to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit and leave the M.A.C. Center with a 61-55 victory and the MAC East regular season championship.

“It reminded me a lot of the last time we played them,” Flashes’ coach Rob Senderoff said. “They went on a run and we couldn’t respond.”

In the two teams’ first meeting, Kent State led Akron by eight at halftime, but the Zips went on an 18-7 run to take the momentum and lead. Kent State’s defensive effort was determined by its lack of offensive success in the Jan. 21 loss at Akron, and much of the same happened Friday night. The Flashes made just 1-of-14 shot attempts in the second half.

“We brought defensive intensity for the entire game against Ohio, and we played through our offensive lapses in that game, and that’s why we won,” Senderoff said. “Tonight, we struggled with that. We struggled with it in the second half. Not very easy to win when you go 1-for-14.”

The Flashes began the game with a high level of emotion and active defense, as they forced the Zips to commit seven turnovers in the first 8:16 of the game. Kent State scored eight fast break points and 13 off turnovers in the first half.

Kent State senior guard Michael Porrini, who finished with 14 points, started the game with six of his team’s first 14 points as the Flashes took control of the game early.

The Flashes couldn’t find that offensive success in the second half, though, and Akron did just the opposite by making 51.9 percent of its second half shots.

“In the first half, they had to score everything in the half court,” Senderoff said. “In the second half, they got out in transition and it was a jailbreak.”

Flashes’ senior forward Justin Greene struggled against 7-foot center Zeke Marshall and made two of 10 shots to finish with eight points.

“He’s our all-conference player,” Senderoff said. “It’s tough to win when your all-conference player does that. But he’s had some great moments and great games all throughout his career. I expect him to bounce back on Thursday.”

“I take 110 percent of the blame for this,” Greene said. “If I had played any type of way I know how to play tonight, we definitely win this game.

“I’m going to take it on the chin, I’m a leader. When we win, I get the praise and when we lose, it’s my fault. It’s definitely my fault tonight.”

“That’s not fair, but that’s why Justin is Justin,” Senderoff said. “It’s what makes him a great kid. It makes him one of the best to ever play here. He struggled for sure. We’re going to struggle when he struggles. That’s sort of how it goes.”

With the loss, Kent State finished the regular season fourth in the MAC East division and will play in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament at 7 p.m. Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Akron, champions of the MAC East and the number one overall seed, will play against the winner of Kent State’s game Friday.

“The tale of both games was that we outplayed them for 28 minutes, and the last 12, they outplayed us,” Greene said. “We know we can play, its just a matter of putting it together for 40 minutes.”

“It hurts, it’s my last game in this building,” Greene said. “It hurts, but sitting here sulking and beating myself up about it isn’t going to do anything. I’ve just got to go home tonight, get my mind refocused and get ready to come to the tournament playing the way Justin Greene knows how to play. Not what you guys saw tonight—tonight was not me.”

“I’m going to do what I’ve got to do to make sure my team is ready for Thursday. Hopefully we can make a run and get rid of this sting by winning [the MAC Championship] on Saturday night.”

The Flashes already knew who awaited them, should they win Thursday night against an opponent that is yet to be determined.

“We’ve just got to come back focused on Thursday. We’ll see Akron on Friday,” Porrini said. “We’re not going to lose three times in a row. I promise that.

“We’ll bounce back, we’ve got a game Thursday, but I’m ready for Friday. I’m ready for Friday right now.”