Flashes claim first place in MAC

Sean Joseph

Flashes defeat rival Akron

Freshman guard Jordan Mincy becomes overwhelmed with joy after tying Akron 41-41 in the second half. Kent State won over Akron, 63-57. ALLIEY BENDER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Sitting atop the Mid-American Conference, the Kent State men’s basketball team is so hot right now.

The Flashes (16-6, 10-1 MAC) came back from a first-half deficit to claim a 63-57 victory over crosstown rival Akron (16-5, 9-2 MAC) and win sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the MAC.

“The game was a great battle and lived up to everything written about it previously,” said Kent State coach Jim Christian.

He added the team struggled in the first half, coming out of it trailing 35-30.

“In the first half maybe our kids got caught up in the crowd, but in the second half we got back into our defensive principles and obviously it worked,” Christian said. “During every time-out I just kept telling our team to settle down. We just had to make a couple of plays doing what we do and get momentum rolling.”

Akron’s leading scorer, junior guard Dru Joyce, scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half. The Flashes’ defense limited junior forward Romeo Travis to four points and the Zips to 30.4 percent shooting in the second half, down from 50 percent in the first half.

Senior forward Kevin Warzynski led Kent State in both scoring and rebounding. He put up 15 points, including a three-point play to put the team up by nine points with one minute and 36 seconds left to play and grabbed eight rebounds.

“We got manhandled by Warzynksi,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said.

The Flashes, who only shot 42.3 percent, grabbed 10 offensive rebounds to the Zips five and outscored them on second-chance points 17-7.

Akron had built up a nine-point lead a few minutes into the second half when Kent State scored nine unanswered points to tie things up. Warzynski said senior forward Jay Youngblood’s three-point that tied the game with 13:45 remaining was the most important shot of the game, while Christian called it an erroneous play gone right.

“It was one of those ‘don’t shoot! don’t shoot! nice shot!’ plays,” Christian said.

After tying the game up, it took a while for the Flashes to gain the momentum that sent them to victory. They didn’t get their first lead of the second half until 9:31 left in the game, but led the rest of the time.

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but by the same token, I remain very impressed with (Kent State),” Dambrot said. “You can’t score 22 points in the second half and expect to win, not in front of a crowd of 6,300 that’s mostly cheering against you. Jim is a good coach, maybe the best in the league. His team is scrappy and athletic. He’s done a real good job finding a style that suits his team.

“Maybe it’s just me, and I may not feel like all people in Akron, but I like the fact that Kent State is good because you can’t have a rivalry if both teams aren’t good.”

Exactly 6,532 people filled the M.A.C. Center, and both coaches said it affected their games. A group disguised as Kent State fans filled the rows of seating behind the student section. They participated in pre-game activities booing and hissing Akron and cheering for Kent State. Then, during the first official time out, the group took off their navy blue T-shirts that said, “KSU,” and turned them inside out to reveal, “can’t beat us.”

The Flashes have beat the Zips in their last three meetings. They look to extend their four-game winning streak against Toledo on Tuesday and stay on top of the MAC.

“Every game is big, but if we’re in first place on Feb. 4, it doesn’t mean anything,” Christian said.

Dambrot said he is modeling Akron’s program from Kent State, and he has never seen any MAC team been as successful.

“I told the team after the game, ‘Until we beat them, Jimmy C. is a better coach than me, and they are better players than you,'” Dambrot said.

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