Cleveland, OH - It came down to two near-by rivals and a packed Quicken Loans Arena in the Mid-American Conference Championship but in the end the No. I seed pounded the No. 3 seed as Kent State cruised by Akron 74-55.
Kent State (28-6) was the dominant team in the MAC this year and the Golden Flashes dominated Akron by almost every measure.
They out-shot Akron (23-10) from the field 50.9 percent (27-53) to 30.8 percent (18-52) and from the foul line 88.9 percent (16-18) to 54.3 percent (18-33). Both teams shot poorly from 3-point land but the Golden Flashes won that one too 33 percent (4-12) to 27.7 percent (5-22). Kent State also out-rebounded the Zips 36-27.
This year Kent State won the East Division title, they had the player of the year, the coach of the year and the best defensive player, Haminn Quaintance who was chosen tournament MVP. Tonight he scored 16 points, pulled down six rebounds and had a blocked shot.
Cleveland State has an RPI of 21 and most likely would have been in the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happened tonight. This game was probably for seeding purposes and the Golden Flashes made their case in convincing fashion.
As for the Zips for the second straight year they saw their Big Dance dreams shattered as they again lost in the championship game. Last year it was a buzzer-beater by Miami’s Doug Penno that sunk them.
It was a relatively tight game until Akron hit a dry spell toward the end of the first half that allowed Kent State to close out the first half on a 16-1 run that sent the Zips into the locker room at halftime down 13 points at 33-20.
A dry spell is putting it mildly. Akron went the final 7:46 without scoring missing their last nine shots and three free throws to end the half.
Akron coach Keith Dambrot thought that his team’s poor shooting hurt them at the other end of the court. “I think our offensive performance affected our defense. I think we got inside on them better than we ever have . We got it at point-blank range, we just couldn’t make it, which is difficult.”
“We just wanted to put pressure on the ball and give them a hard time getting into their offensive sets. We wanted them to chance what they wanted to do,” explained Kent State player Al Fisher.
In the second half Akron did make a run cutting the Kent State lead to 10 points at 51-41 at the 8:20 mark on a basket by Nate Linhart. Kent State’s Mike Scott responded by making a jump shot. Right after that he was intentionally fouled on a steal play. He sunk both foul shots.
Then Kent State’s Chris Singletary converted a 3-point play, but was knocked down after making the final foul shot by Linhart who backed into him.
Kent State coach Jim Christian had some choice words for Linhart after everyone got untangled.
“Singletary is a key person for us when putting pressure on the ball because he is so strong. That was a key for us to have an option like him to go to,” said Christian.
When the final horn sounded Fisher, the MAC Player of the Year, provided an exclamation point on a good night by doing a back flip in front of the Kent State bench.
-LeBron James of the Cavalier and Akron’s most famous native son was in attendance for tonight’s game.
-Tonight’s meeting was the 125 meeting between the two programs. Kent leads the all-time series 65-60. Akron won last year’s three games and Kent won this year’s three games.
-This is the seventh time in the past 11 years tht Kent has played in the MAC Championship game. Kent has won five of those seven games.
The All-Tournament Team
-Joe Reitz, Western Michigan
-Jeremiah Wood, Akron
-Al Fisher, Kent State
-Mike Scott, Kent State
-Haminn Quaintance, Kent State