Revenge and a rivalry

Doug Gulasy

Flashes look for payback against archrival

Senior forward Mike Scott dunks the ball for two of his 14 points in the Flashes’ 74-62 victory over MAC East opponent Miami last weekend. BRIAN MARKS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Three hundred and twenty days.

That’s how much time has passed since archrival Akron ended the Kent State men’s basketball team’s 2006-07 season in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament.

The Flashes (14-4, 3-1 MAC) will get their chance for some payback for that loss and the two others they suffered against Akron last season when they play the Zips (14-3, 4-0 MAC) at 7 p.m. tonight in the M.A.C. Center.

“I think for you to bring the intensity, you definitely have to think about (last year), as any basketball player would,” senior forward Mike Scott said. “It kind of lights a fire in you to get this one, get the next one.

“For them to beat us three times last year, it was definitely an accomplishment by them, and we’re just definitely going to bounce back and try to get this game right here. It’s that simple.”

Before last year, the rivalry between the two schools had been one-sided on the other end. Kent State beat Akron seven out of nine times through the first meeting of the 2005-06 season, but now Akron has won four straight.

“The last three years all the games have been close, and we’ve stepped our game up,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “The competitiveness makes for a good rivalry. People called us a rivalry (in the past), but in order to have a rivalry, you have to have competition.”

Last season, the Zips beat the Flashes 78-68 at Rhodes Arena by making a late 23-11 run, then won the rematch at the M.A.C. Center, 66-64 in overtime on a last-second layup by Jeremiah Wood.



Records: Kent State 14-4 (3-1)

Akron 14-3 (4-0)

Time: 7 p.m.

TV: Time Warner Channel 79 (Bill Needle and Doug Sims)

Radio: 100.1 FM WNIR (Ty Linder)


Then came the MAC Tournament. The Flashes took a 33-19 lead into halftime, but struggled offensively in the second half, shooting just 23 percent en route to a 61-54 loss.

The Flashes don’t want to get caught up too much in the rivalry. Sophomore guard Mike McKee said the players think about the rivalry “a little bit, (but) not so much when you’re actually playing.”

“When you get out there, once the ball’s tipped up, it’s just another game,” McKee said. “It’s just other kids wearing different jerseys, and you’re trying to beat them.”‘

But Scott acknowledged that this game usually has an added intensity. He said that he considers every MAC game a rivalry but Akron is on a higher level.

“I guess this is just a little bit on a higher scale, simply because they’re so close,” he said. “It’s definitely an intense game. They’re going to have their fans here, we’re going to have ours here. We’re going to bring our best game, they’re going to bring theirs.”

While some players on the Flashes haven’t yet played Akron, Kent State coach Jim Christian said for the most part his team has experience in this type of game.

“We’ve been through it,” Christian said. “Most of the key players have been in this type of game. The ones who haven’t, the older guys have to tell them what this is actually about and how hard you have to play.”

This year, the intensity is beginning before the game. After Akron defeated Bowling Green 80-44 Sunday night, Wood, the Zips’ star senior forward, addressed the Kent State game.

“Are you just better than me?” Wood said in an interview with The Plain Dealer. “I don’t think it’s an advantage on our end. But they got a lot of doubt. They were up 14 at halftime and lost. They lost by a buzzer-beater. They (have) got to overcome their mental problems.”

Scott said, though, that the Flashes don’t have any doubt about whether they can compete with Akron.

“We’re 3-1 in the MAC right now (and) we’ve been pretty much playing well all season,” he said. “We’re going into the game with confidence, pure confidence, knocking down open shots. We definitely don’t have (any) doubts. You can’t doubt yourself playing this game.”

The Flashes are playing for more than I-76 bragging rights. The Zips, at 4-0 in the MAC, hold a one-game lead over the Flashes. If the Flashes win, they tie Akron in the standings; if they lose, they fall two games behind.

“They’re very good,” Christian said. “They’re very disciplined, they’ve got experienced players who have been in big games before, so they’re a good basketball team. That’s the reason why they’ve had the early-season success. We’ve just got to concentrate on doing what we do better, which we didn’t do last game (a 71-59 loss at Ohio).”

To win, Kent State must contain Wood better than it did last season. The forward averaged 13.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in the three games against the Flashes last season.

Akron’s guards – Steve McNees, Nick Dials and Cedrick Middleton – can also cause trouble.

“All Akron’s guards are good shooters,” McKee said. “They have a big post presence in Jeremiah Wood, but whenever the ball goes inside, we have to focus on not losing shooters because if they kick it out, they can all shoot it.”

Scott said he expects a large Kent State crowd in attendance. There were less than 1,000 seats available as of 6 p.m. last night. The M.A.C. Center’s ticket office number is 330-672-2244.

McKee said playing at home is an advantage, but the Flashes have to compete up to their capabilities.

“Once you tip it up, it’s just all about competing,” he said. “You just have to go out and compete your butt off and hope that we can do the right things and get a win.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].