Flashes fall in last regular game

Sean Joseph

Senior center Nate Gerwig covers his face after Kent State fell behind Akron in the second half Saturday. The Flashes fell 75-67 to end the regular season. ALLIEY BENDER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

The Flashes got caught by the Zips in a 75-67 loss Saturday.

After leading by nine at halftime, the Kent State men’s basketball team shot 28.6 percent to Akron’s 69.6 percent in the second half to post a loss to end the regular season.

The game did not affect the Flashes’ No. 1 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland. Kent State has a first-round bye and will start tournament play Thursday against the winner of tonight’s matchup between Buffalo and Ball State.

The loss at Akron ended the Flashes’ (22-8, 15-3 MAC) six-game winning streak and left Akron (21-8, 14-4 MAC) undefeated at home this year. The Zips have won 18 straight at James A. Rhodes Arena. Their last loss came from the Flashes on Feb. 9, 2005.

The Zips got off to a slow start and trailed the Flashes for the majority of the first half. The only Akron player to score more than three points in the opening half was senior forward Darryl Peterson, who scored 12 of his team’s 24 points in the half. He would end up leading all scorers at the end of the game with 22 points.

The Flashes were first to strike in the second half and increased their lead to 11. But the Zips’ newfound ability to get the ball inside during the second half let them put up uncontested layups and opened up players on the perimeter to score the next ten points, leaving them down by one with 16:49 left to play.

Both teams then battled it out and stayed within a few points of each other, but Akron center Rob Preston – another senior who lit things up on senior day – hit two crucial free-throws with 11:17 to take the lead and momentum away from Kent State once and for all.

“I knew they would come back,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “They’re too good of a team not to.”

Akron coach Keith Dambrot said he would like to attribute his team’s success in the second half to adjustments he made during halftime, but he said it was one of the calmest times they’ve had in the locker room all season, despite being down by nine.

“When a team is a little bit frazzled, the last thing you want to do is yell at them,” Dambrot said, “so we just had to go back to the basics. The only adjustments I made was telling them to play together and throw the ball inside.”

But Christian said Akron’s penetration made the difference. During the first half, the Flashes were able to contain the Zip’s errant 3-point shots (2-of-10) from well beyond the arc. But during the second half Kent State was too busy trying to stop Akron junior forward Romeo Travis’ reverse layups and let them make 6-of-9 from behind the arc.

But statistical evidence shows the exact opposite happened to the Flashes in the second half.

Senior center Nate Gerwig and senior forward Kevin Warzynski shot a combined 0-of-4 in the second half. With Akron able to render the big men useless, Kent State made five shots in the paint during the half and attempted 18 3-pointers, making only five.

“We were able to get them off their double team, which helped us offensively. I think we were the first team to be able to do that to them all year,” Dambrot said. “And (Matt) Futch’s ability to guard Gerwig and Warzynski in the post helped us not give up any open threes.”

Senior guards DeAndre Haynes and Jay Youngblood led the Flashes in scoring with 21 and 20 points respectively. Consecutive 3-pointers by Haynes and then Youngblood pulled Kent State to three points behind Akron with 50 seconds remaining. But they couldn’t avoid sending the Zips to the free-throw line, where they made 5-of-6 charity shots to end the game with a victory.

Akron finished up the regular season sitting one game behind Kent State in MAC standings. Akron secured the No. 3 seed in the tournament and left people anticipating a rematch between the two teams next Saturday in the MAC Championship game in Cleveland. Northern Illinois (12-6, 17-10 MAC) has the No. 2 seed because they are first in the MAC West division, despite having a worse regular-season record than Akron.

“This game was a reality check. MAC teams never stop playing,” Haynes said. “There are no more records right now, everyone is 0-0. We gotta have the mind set of a championship team. Everyone in the MAC is going to play hard.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected].