In the MAC, size does matter, Akron Zips fail to measure up

Kali Price

Bigger is better.

A big game, a big rival, big plays and a big crowd all resulted in a big win for the Kent State men’s basketball team.

“I thought it was a great basketball game,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “I knew that going in before the game that this was going to be two excellent basketball teams. Obviously we knew we were going to have a great environment here. I think our crowd played a big factor in the game.”

The Flashes (16-6, 10-1 Mid-American Conference) played in more than just a good environment to post a 63-57 win over Akron (16-5, 9-2 MAC).

In what was probably one of the biggest games of the year, aside from their next meeting with the Zips, the Flashes fed off of a second-half turnaround and big plays to prove that size does matter.

The size of the crowd was one of the biggest parts of the win. The M.A.C. Center was packed past its capacity of 6,327 fans with 6,532 screaming Kent State and Akron fans – although a large group of those Akron fans were disguised as Kent State students until the first official time-out.

“There was a lot of energy,” Christian said. “In this type of game – that’s a battle of possession by possession – you can get a lot of energy off the crowd; I think our kids do (feed off) of that. I just thought it was a great college basketball game.”

Another big aspect of the game was the senior leadership Christian has emphasized throughout the season.

Going into the second half, the Flashes trailed 35-30, and then allowed the Zips to increase their lead to nine with 17 minutes and 14 seconds left on the clock.

But it was a steal one minute later by senior forward Kevin Warzynski that turned the game around for the Flashes.

“I thought our seniors made some plays during that stretch that helped us,” Christian said. “Those guys have been in those positions before. In this type of environment, you get caught up in such a frenzy. We were taking quick shots; we weren’t moving the basketball like we had been.”

But with Warzynski’s steal, the Flashes began taking the right shots, making better passes and getting into a better rhythm.

“Every player that stepped on the floor made big plays for us,” senior guard DeAndre Haynes said.

And Haynes was completely right.

The Flashes’ smallest player, 5-foot-10-inch freshman guard Jordan Mincy, may not have made much of a contribution offensively, but Mincy’s best contributions came on defense.

“Jordan didn’t play like a freshman today,” Christian said.

Mincy only had one defensive rebound, one three-pointer and three assists, but his ability to guard Akron’s bigger players, such as junior guard Dru Joyce, made a tremendous impact on the game’s outcome.

“I was hyped to come in and do what I could do on defense,” Mincy said.

But the biggest play of the game put the Flashes up by eight and secured the win with 1:36 left.

Off of a missed three-pointer by Haynes, Warzynski nabbed the rebound, put up a layup and drew the foul from Akron junior forward Romeo Travis.

And Warzynski’s free throw put the Flashes up by nine.

Not only were second chance points important, as the Flashes scored 17 as opposed to the Zips’ 7, the Flashes capitalized on opportunities created by turnovers as well.

“They made the run; we never countered it,” Joyce said. “If you play bad offense, you play better defense. But we played bad on both sides.”

The Flashes topped the Zips 20-6 on points off turnovers and also dominated in the paint, scoring 30 points in the paint while the Zips only scored seven.

“You can’t make turnovers that help the other team,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said.

Now that the Flashes are on a high after a big win over their biggest rival, there are still seven MAC games left before the first round of the MAC Tournament on March 6.

But before the tournament begins, the Flashes will face another big game.

The last regular season game is set for 7 p.m. on March 4 at Akron.

And despite the fact that the Flashes are at the top of the MAC now, a lot can happen in the six MAC games that are before Akron.

Haynes said no matter what, it will be an important matchup.

“Either way, it’s going to be a big game,” he said.

Contact sports editor Kali Price at [email protected].