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Joseph Gartrell

Lebron James got what he came for – win for the Zips, giving them the MAC East Title

Kent State students appear stunned after the Flashes couldn’t hold on to an overtime victory over the Akron Zips. ABBY FISHER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

It’s a wonder everyone didn’t end up bald. Bald and gray. Coaches, cheerleaders, players, fans. Everyone bald, the last bits gray. Hair all over the seats, the floor.

Everyone looking like they just served a term in the White House. Because games like that can speed up the aging process, deplete calcium from bones.

Kent State’s 66-64 loss to Akron before a standing-room only crowd – and Lebron James – at the M.A.C. Center last night determined the Mid-American Conference East Champion.

The game, as anticipated, was intense, and so was the crowd. Akron fans were outnumbered, their student section was rarely audible above the Kent State crowd noise, except when an Akron student yelled “You suck, Kent” as the crowd became silent for the singing of the National Anthem.

After the Anthem, there were some “Screw the Roo” chants from Kent State students, but the derogatory group taunting ended after the initial jabs. There were some signs, of course, including a a sign in the Kent State student section that read,” What the Zuck is a Fip?!”

Cleveland professional athletes have been at both match-ups between the rivals this season. At Akron, where the Daily Kent Stater sports editor addressed him by the wrong name, Cleveland Indians utility infielder Joe Inglett was in attendance. Aside from James last night, Donyell Marshall, Eric Snow and David Wesley of the Cleveland Cavaliers were in the crowd.

Marshall, wearing a blue track suit, was the first professional athlete to arrive. “Donyell Marshall, Donyell Marshall,” the Akron students chanted.

James, an Akron native, arrived a few minutes into the game. He changed seats twice. “I can’t sit right there, there’s no room,” he said after the second change.

James moved down a row, taking up a seat in front of 69-year-old Rosine Johnson. Did the 6-foot-8 James impede Johnson’s view of the game?

“Eh, a little bit,” she said. “He seemed very polite.”

Shortly after becoming situated, James expressed displeasure with the referees. “Three seconds,” James yelled, wanting the Flashes to be called for a lane violation. Of course, his allegiance is with the Zips, his hometown team.

James was an active fan, admonishing teammates and referees, jumping to his feet after big plays, but he didn’t show interest during a fan participation event in the first half. Three of the most decked out Kent State fans were brought to mid-court, and crowd noise, which determined the winner, reached a crescendo for sophomore education major Chris Hetzel, who was dressed in a Flashes superhero outfit. Just before Hetzel bowed to the crowd, he pointed to James. “Lebron James!” Hetzel yelled.

James either didn’t hear or wasn’t interested. He simply scratched at his face during Hetzel’s moment.

“James doesn’t like me,” Hetzel said during halftime.

Michael Reghi, the former voice of the Cavs and current MAC sports broadcaster, was located just in front of James in press row. At one point, they exchanged smiles. Moments later, a reporter informed Reghi of James’s active participation in the game. “He’s rooting for his boys?” Reghi said.

He was rooting for them and was, at times, advising them.

“That’s too easy! That’s too easy!” James often shouted after a bucket by Akron’s Romeo Travis – a high school teammate of James’.

“Hold on to the ball. He’s going to jump every time,” James admonished Travis as Travis waited at the scorer’s table with five minutes left in the half. Travis smiled, pleased with the tip.

“Hell na,” James yelled when Kent State’s Haminn Quaintance air-balled a hook shot.

When a 3-pointer by Akron’s Dru Joyce – another former high school teammate – put the Zips up 10 with six-plus minutes to go, James pumped his fist while pacing the aisle.

Things began looking bleak for the Flashes, but they quickly rallied and cut the deficit to one by the four-minute mark. Head coach Jim Christian stomped his feet in celebration and the crowd noise was such that it sent vibrations through the press row floorboards.

“Let’s go!” James yelled when Akron pulled back ahead by three.

A travel was called – a look of incredulity came over James – giving the ball back to the Flashes near the 40-second mark. And then came some tense moments as the Flashes allowed the clock to tick away, wearing the clock down for the final shot. The fans leaned forward, not sure what to do. One older woman at mid-court, overwhelmed by the tension, diverted her gaze.

The Flashes tied the game, sending it to overtime. But when Omni Smith’s desperation heave fell short as the clock expired, it was all over for Kent State.

Contact sports editor Joe Gartrell at [email protected].