Flashes prepare to take on biggest rival

Sean Joseph

Kent State to face Akron for first place

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

The Kent State men’s basketball team has a chance to be the best team in the Mid-American Conference, but first they have to beat their cross-town rivals.

“We live for games like this,” said senior forward Jay Youngblood, the Flashes’ leading scorer. “What more could you ask for?”

Tomorrow’s matchup with Akron (16-4, 9-1 MAC) is a nationally-televised game and is expected to be a sell-out. Both teams are tied for first place in the MAC.

The Zips are coming off of a 75-61 victory over Buffalo and have a three-game winning streak. Their only MAC loss came in a 52-45 defeat in Athens against Ohio.

The Flashes are coming off a 73-60 victory at Ohio and have won nine out of their last ten games. Last Thursday, Bowling Green gave Kent State its first conference loss.

Tomorrow sets the stage for the biggest game so far in junior guard Omni Smith’s career. Smith played two seasons for Eastfield Community College in Texas and said he has not played in front of a sold-out crowd since high school.

“I’m excited, but I’m treating this as just another game in front of another great crowd,” Smith said. “This game is for the number one spot.”

Youngblood said tomorrow’s game could be a preview of the MAC Championship game and that it is like a championship game because both teams are No. 1 right now.

“These two teams are on a mission,” Youngblood said. “We’re both really hungry.”

Akron is led in scoring by junior forward Romeo Travis, who averages 14.3 points per game. Travis and junior guards Chad Mraz and Dru Joyce were teammates of Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James in high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary, adding another twist to the game.

“We’re playing against the best – that’s what I came here for,” Smith said. “They’ve got experience winning championships with LeBron (James). And that’s what they’re trying to do right now.”

Besides that, Smith said he’s not even sure who is on the Zips.

“All I heard is (Travis) is a good player. But we have to play as a team, they can’t beat us with one guy,” Smith said.

Kent State won two close games against Akron last season, 57-54 in Akron and 73-68 at home. Senior Kevin Warzynski scored 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds last time he played against Akron.

“We gotta be physical and just play our game,” Warzynski said. “We’re a tough team that just keeps grinding and never folds.”

He said Kent State had the edge in last year’s games and still has the edge now because they have more experience in big games like tomorrow’s. Warzynski said the team is also feeling good coming off of its first win in four years in Athens against Ohio.

“We feel good, but we don’t want to be too complacent,” Warzynski said. “This is a big game, but it’s still an early-February game. We don’t want a let down in this game like we had after our last big win at Miami and lost to Bowling Green.”

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