KENT, OHIO – Senior guard Kris Brewer drove the length of the court and scored on a layup with three-tenths of a second remaining to give the Kent State Golden Flashes a thrilling 79-77 victory over the arch-rival Akron Zips Friday nighr before a sellout crowd of 6.327 at the MAC Center.
The victory gave Kent State (21-10, 12-6 MAC) a share of the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division title with Buffalo. However the Bulls gained the second seed in next week’s MAC Tournament with their win at home over Bowling Green. KSU will be the third seed and play its first tournament game on Thursday March 12.
“It was a great, great game and a great win for us.” KSU head coach Rob Senderoff said. “This team showed the heart and toughness they have shown all season long.”
The Flashes had four players in double figures led by senior guard Derek Jackson who totaled 22 points. Brewer added 20 with four rebounds and three assists. Sophomore Jimmy Hall had 18 with six rebounds and five blocked shots, while senior Devereaux Manley had 10.
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“Very proud of our team tonight.” Dambrot said. “With a break or two we probably win.”
Junior Reggie McAdams came off the bench to lead UA with 17 points hitting five-of-six from three-point range. Freshman Antino Jackson had 16 with four rebounds and seven assists. Sophomore Isiah Johnson had 14 with six boards, while fellow soph Kwan Cheatham had 12 with nine caroms and two assists.
The contest had all the ingredients to be battle. Beyond the natural rivalry, tournament seeding and a piece of the MAC East Division title were on the line.
Akron opened the game with a pair of threes from Cheatham and junior Jake Kretzer.
But unlike its game on Saturday when KSU saw Buffalo hit its first four shots from beyond the arc, KSU weathered the storm and stayed with the Zips.
Akron held a 9-8 lead at the 15:31 mark on a layup down the lane by Antino Jackson. The Flashes then went on a 10-2 spurt to take an 18-9 lead at the 12:43 mark on a four-point play by Jackson, who was sizzling in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 19 points.
When asked about his first half performance, Jackson said “I wanted to be in an aggressive mindset tonight. I saw a couple of early shots go in. We got the win that’s all that matters.”
After UA closed the deficit to 18-14 on a left wing jumper by Cheatham, KSU outscored the Zips 14-8 to take its largest lead of the first half, 33-22, on a three pointer from the top of the key by Manley. Kent State went into halftime with an eight-point advantage 37-29.
KSU shot an even 50 percent from the floor (12-of-24) and was 8-of-9 from the free throw line in the first stanza. It held a slim 16-14 rebounding edge. UA, meanwhile, was just 11-of-26 (42.3%) from the floor and two-of-four from the charity stripe.
As the second half began, the Flashes lead fluctuated between four and eight points. Midway through the period, playing without three key components to their lineup (Pat Forsythe, Noah Robotham, and B.J. Gladden) due to injuries, UA gnawed away at the deficit.
The Zips gained their first lead since the early moments of the contest, 53-51, on two free throws by McAdams, who scored all of his points in the second half.
From that point on, the two teams slugged it out, matching shot for shot, big play for big play. UA had its final lead of the game, 59-57, when senior Deji Ibitayo connected on an off-balance layup.
KSU responded by scoring 10 unanswered points to take an eight-point advantage, 67-59, on a layup by Hall at the 5:16 mark. Consecutive threes by Antino Jackson and McAdams brought the Zips back to within two, 67-65, at the 4:10 mark.
KSU held a tenuous advantage down the stretch but could and missed three-of-four free throws in the final minute. The missed foul shots gave Akron an opportunity and UA tied the game on a driving layup by Antino Jackson with 5.9 seconds remaining.
When asked about his play stepping in for Robotham, who was lost for the season with an ACL injury two weeks ago against Miami, Dambrot said “He was simply terrific. A gutsy effort.”
The Flashes called a time out, on the inbound play
After a Flashes time out, Brewer got the ball on an inbound play. He drove the length of the court down the right side and put up a shot that went through the basket just before the clock hit triple zeroes.
Of the final play, Brewer said “During the time out, coach said go make a play. I saw an opening in the defense and took what was available and made the shot.”
When the buzzer sounded, KSU students and fans stormed the court to celebrate their victory while the seniors cut down the net at the basket.
It was a well played game, with just 14 total turnovers as both raised their game to the moment. KSU was 11-of-23 from the field in the second half and 48.9 percent for the game (23-of-47). UA was an even 50 percent from the floor in the second period (16-of-32), finishing the game at 46.6% (27-of-58).
“We showed we can play toe-to-toe with every team in the league whatever the circumstances.” Dambrot said.
Two glaring stats from the contest. The first was 14 of UA’s 27 field goals were from beyond the arc. The second was KSU going 25-of-35 from the free throw line. However, missing three of four in the final minute almost cost the Flashes dearly.