Kent State hopes to earn first victory over Akron in third meeting

Nick Shook

Many people say it’s difficult to defeat a team three times in one season.

Kent State will hope that is the truth tonight when it faces rival Akron in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals. The Flashes fell to the Zips twice in the regular season in eerily similar fashion, surrendering leads in the second half as Akron went on runs of 18-7 and 22-2 in each game.

Kent State is out to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“We’ve just got to clean that up, especially for [tonight],” Kent State senior forward Justin Greene said. “We did that last Friday and it cost us the game. Hopefully, if we get a lead on them, me and Mike [Porrini] as seniors need to get the team together and tell them that we’re not giving up the lead. If we do that, we’ll be tough to beat.”

The Flashes defeated Western Michigan 76-72 Thursday night in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals, but the victory wasn’t earned without drama. Kent State held a 19-point lead midway through the second half, but a late Western Michigan run brought the Broncos within three points of tying the game.

“I think we’ve just got to make sure we kill people’s will,” Greene said. “It’s been important for us all year, and it almost came back to bite us again. We’ve just got to take what coach is going to give us and make sure that we don’t [give up the lead].”

Luckily for the Flashes, Greene made two free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory Thursday, and Kent State will take little time off as the Flashes prepare to play Akron tonight. A lack of rest may concern Kent State fans, especially with Akron entering the game on a week’s worth of rest, but Porrini quickly dispelled any notion of fatigue.

“It’s basketball,” Porrini said. “We’ve been doing this our entire life. At the end of the day, we’re seniors. We’ve got two other seniors, and we have a team behind us that doesn’t want to lose. The rest and all of that is out of the window when you make it to the tournament. When the ball goes up, all of that has to go away.”

Kent State will have to execute on the offensive and defensive ends of the court, but that isn’t the only task the Flashes will have to accomplish in order to win tonight.

Akron boasts one of the best big men in the league in center Zeke Marshall, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. The 7-foot center is averaging just under three blocks per game and has given Greene trouble in the two teams’ previous two games. The Flashes will have to try to get Greene going early, as well as get Marshall into foul trouble.

Kent State will also have to defend Akron’s perimeter shooters. The Zips have one of the deepest benches in the conference and guards that can make open 3-pointers, including MAC Sixth Man of the Year Quincy Diggs. Relentless defense is necessary for Kent State to create turnovers that will result in open shots on the offensive end of the floor.

The most important factor for the Flashes is their own energy level. Akron is Kent State’s biggest rival as coach Rob Senderoff said, “You come to Kent State, you hate Akron.” The Flashes must take the floor with more energy and desire to win than the Zips and remain relentless for the full 40 minutes of play in order to come away with a victory.

“We’ve just got to play basketball, compete, do what we do and play Kent State basketball, and we’ll be fine,” Porrini said.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and will be broadcast on SportsTime Ohio.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].