Men’s basketball defeats Akron advancing to MAC championship


Janson McNair

Jalen Sullinger celebrates after landing a crucial 3-point-shot at the MAC Men’s Basketball tournament semifinals March 10.

Jacob Shondel, Reporter

Last season, the Kent State men’s basketball team lost 75-55 to Akron in the Mid-American Conference tournament championship.

Friday, the Flashes defeated the Zips in the semifinals 79-73, advancing to the championship game, taking on top seed Toledo.

“To get here, the league is a gauntlet of 18 games,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “Everyone is  really difficult to play, then you come up to Cleveland, and any one of those teams could go in the NCAA Tournament and win a game.”

Kent State forced 18 turnovers, leading to 31 points.

“That’s been our formula for success,” Senderoff said. “Our offense isn’t always the prettiest thing, but our defense and our rebounding had been constant all year.”

KSU started the game off strong, as redshirt senior forward Miryne Thomas and redshirt senior guard Malique Jacobs each scored five points as the Flashes jumped out to a 10-4 lead after four minutes of play.

Over the next four minutes, redshirt senior guard Sincere Carry recorded eight points, and the score was now 20-14 KSU.

Sincere Carry (right) dances with defender Garvin Clarke (left) at the MAC Men’s Basketball tournament semifinals March 10. (Janson McNair)

After a 14-5 scoring run, the Flashes led 34-19 with six minutes remaining in the first half as MAC Sixth Man of the Year, Jalen Sullinger, scored seven points.

Kent State would go the next five minutes without scoring a basket, leading to a 13-0 Akron scoring run. The Zips brought the game to within two 34-32 Flashes.

Carry converted on two baskets in the final two minutes of the half, as KSU would go into halftime leading 38-34.

After starting the game, shooting 56%, the Flashes ended the half shooting 43.2%.

Akron turned the ball over nine times, leading to 17 points.

The Flashes committed 11 personal fouls as the Zips attempted 11 free throws, converting nine. KSU was 1-of-2 from the free throw line.

Kent State started the second half on a 13-5 scoring run, led by Carry and Thomas, each scoring five points. The score was now 51-39.

Senderoff was proud of how his team came out of the break after Akron brought the game close.

“I give our players all the credit for how they responded,” he said. “Because we started out the second half the same way we started the game, and we were able to keep it going a little bit longer.”

The Flashes continued their hot start on offense as they went on an 8-2 scoring run, making the score 59-41.

In the game’s final eight minutes, the Zips went on a 21-13 scoring run – KSU shot 0-of-10 from the field and scored all 13 points at the free-throw line.

“When we lost at their place, they didn’t score a field goal in the last eight minutes and beat us,” Senderoff said. “So when we play each other, sometimes it’s like a war of attrition.

“And you’re playing in the conference semifinals, you do whatever it takes to find a way to get a win, and you just got to try to win by one.”

Malique Jacobs (left) finds a tight lane for a 2-point shot amidst defenders Sammy Hunter (center) and Enrique Freeman (right) at the MAC Men’s Basketball tournament semifinals March 10. (Janson McNair)

Final numbers

KSU shot 37.9% from the field while shooting 9-of-26 behind the arc. Akron shot 44.2% and 7-of-22 from three.

Thomas led the Flashes with 24 points. Carry added 21 points. Jacobs totaled 10 points and four steals.

“I’ve had ups and downs throughout the season, and now I’m in my hometown playing,” Thomas said. “So it’s just like it’s easy to be confident in here, and yesterday my shot wasn’t falling, so I had to have a short memory.”

Sullinger, who finished with 11 points, said playing alongside Thomas and Carry is “easy.”

“When we got guys playing like that and hitting on all cylinders. I don’t think there are many teams that can beat us,” he said.

Top-seeded Rockets up next

Toledo is currently on a 17-game winning streak, with their last loss on Jan. 10 when the Flashes won 75-63.

Tip off is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

“We have to defend and rebound, that’s been our formula all year, and Toledo doesn’t turn the ball over much,” Senderoff said. “We got to find a way to create some turnovers like we have to do the things that have gotten us here because we’re not going to outshoot Toledo.”

Jacob Shondel is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]