Flashes hope to keep Akron from MAC Title Friday

Kent+State+senior+center+Justin+Manns+and+junior+forward+Chris+Evans+try+to+block+Akron+from+scoring+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.+21+at+the+University+of+Akron%E2%80%99s+James+A.+Rhodes+Arena.+The+Akron+Zips+beat+the+Flashes+84-75.+File+Photo.

Kent State senior center Justin Manns and junior forward Chris Evans try to block Akron from scoring on Saturday, Jan. 21 at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena. The Akron Zips beat the Flashes 84-75. File Photo.

Nick Shook

After defeating Ohio, Kent State hopes to defeat rival Akron and secure the third seed with some help from other Mid-American Conference schools.

The conference-leading Zips enter the final game of the season on a two-game losing streak after falling to Ohio, 85-61, and Buffalo, 74-70. Akron had lost only one other conference game all season before losing two straight, but as with any rivalry game, records will mean little Friday night.

That is, of course, without focusing on Mid-American Conference standings.

Akron currently leads the conference with a 12-3 record, but Buffalo is right behind them with an 11-4 record. The Bulls can clinch the No. 1 seed with a victory and an Akron loss. Kent State can be seeded as high as third with a victory and help from other MAC teams.

The Flashes aren’t worried about conference seeding, though.

“If we were playing for the number one seed, I’m sure the seeding aspect would be important, but we’re not,” Flashes coach Rob Senderoff said. “Knowing that it’s Akron, our kids will be focused and ready to go.”

Kent State finished the 2010-11 regular season with a home victory over the Zips, and after falling to Akron on the road earlier in the season, the Flashes are not only looking to finish the season with a victory, but also earn a coveted victory over their most-hated rival.

“Knowing that Akron beat us the first time we played them, I think our kids will have revenge on our minds,” Senderoff said. “For the seniors, it’s their last game here. You know, Justin Greene, for four years, you go to Kent State, you hate Akron. When you go to Kent State, you know Akron is your biggest rival. It’s Duke-North Carolina. It’s Michigan-Ohio State. It’s Kent State-Akron.”

“This is going to make or break us,” Flashes’ senior forward Justin Manns said. “Akron is our rival, so you already know it’s going to be a packed crowd. Everybody expects big things out of Kent State, so we just have to carry the energy [from Wednesday’s victory] to tomorrow’s game. It’s going to be a dog fight, but it’s going to be a good one.”

Akron is led by 7-foot center Zeke Marshall, who averages 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Kent State isn’t focusing on Marshall alone, though, as eight Zips average over five points per game.

“The match-ups are important,” Senderoff said. “We have to do a good job on a number of guys. They have so many guys that score between eight and 10 points, you can’t really key on one guy.”

Kent State, now out of contention for the MAC East regular-season title, is determined to prevent Akron from winning the division title on the Flashes’ home court Friday.

“Both teams are always good,” Senderoff said. “This game, [Akron is] playing for the No. 1 seed. We don’t want them to do it here, on our court.”

“Getting the win [tonight], that would mean that Akron can’t win the regular season championship,” Manns said, “They can’t win. They can’t get that in the M.A.C. Center. We know tomorrow is going to be a huge game.”

“I don’t want Akron celebrating on our home court,” Flashes’ senior guard Carlton Guyton said. “If we don’t win it, Akron doesn’t win it.”

The game, which was close to a sell-out as of Thursday evening, is likely to draw a large crowd in support of the Flashes.

“That’s how you want it to happen,” Guyton said. “Beat Akron, pack the arena. There’s nothing else you can ask for.”

“It should help,” Senderoff said. “We’re 7-0 in the league at home and we’re 12-2 overall, so we’ve been good at home. I’m hoping that by this time [Friday], it’ll be a sell-out. The game is on ESPN2. It’s national TV. It’s Kent-Akron. It’s a great rivalry. Hopefully we’ll have a great crowd.”

Game time between Kent State and Akron is set for 7 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected] and @NickShookDKS.