Appreciation for fans fills the M.A.C.

Rachel Jones

With Queen’s “We are the Champions” blaring overhead, a sea of gold Kent State T-shirts poured from the student section and through the yellow, braided cords meant to block fans from getting on the court.

They joined the members of the Kent State men’s basketball team who were already celebrating their 79-68 victory over Akron and Mid-American Conference regular season championship in the M.A.C. Center Friday.

The players hugged each other and their coaches, and put on gray MAC regular season championship T-shirts while sophomore forward Brian Frank unrolled the golden MAC regular season championship banner to show the standing, cheering crowd.

While this was a major moment for the team, Kent State coach Geno Ford said it was also a victory for the fans.

After willing the Flashes through the Buffalo game Feb. 24 and supporting them after the Feb. 26 loss to Ohio, Ford said “the post-game (celebration) was something for the fans.”

“It was a fun game – I would think – to watch for casual fans or observers,” Ford said. “(Akron was) playing at a pretty high level. (We were) playing at a pretty high level and happened to get the lead and make a couple dagger plays.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”-Rod Sherman

Down 31-27 at the half, the small, brave group of Akron fans – or “Ak-rowdies” – who showed up at the M.A.C. Center started to cheer for the Zips and put down the Flashes.

But Kent State came back with 13 minutes left in the game.

“We were preaching in the locker room to get Justin Greene going,” Sherman said. “Then Justin Greene got going. He was feeling it and doing all his offensive tendencies.”

Once Akron started focusing on covering Greene, who led the team with 18 points, other Kent State players got to sneak in and score.

“Rod got going then I got going then Randal got going,” said junior guard Carlton Guyton. “We were doing pretty hot.”

“We can’t hear you!” the Flashes’ student section chanted up to the stunned-silent Akron section.

“Like all great crowds, they got into it more when we were scoring, and I thought they were a factor,” Ford said. “When we were getting on roll, and it just felt like we were going to score every time we had it.”

With ESPN2 cameras capturing everything, the student section roared with every basket, shaking their homemade signs and leaving a ringing in everyone else’s ears.

“That was as loud as this building’s been all season,” Ford said. “(The fans) were jacked up – maybe more than our players in the first five minutes.”

Obviously, a lot of fans came to the game because of the Kent State-Akron rivalry.

But Ford said there have been times the M.A.C. Center did not sell out for an Akron game before, so he did not know if every seat would be full on Friday.

“I wasn’t sure we’d sell it out because we’d already clinched (the regular season championship after Miami’s loss), and they’d be like ‘Well, Akron’s just playing for a seed, Kent’s just playing for a seed,” Ford said. “But it not only sold-out, I was almost stampeded at the door.”

And he was almost trampled again right when the game ended.

Senior guard Rod Sherman safely basked in the moment atop a fan’s shoulders.

“They grabbed me and told me ‘Get up on my shoulders,’ and I said ‘OK,’” Sherman said with a laugh.

While he did not know the student – “but he was probably an athlete because he was pretty strong” – the senior embraced the irreplaceable moments of his final basketball game in the M.A.C. Center with his hands pointing toward the sky.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].