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CLEVELAND, Ohio – A 13-2 second-half run proved too much for the University of Akron men's basketball team to overcome as the Zips suffered a 70-65 setback to its arch-rival Kent State in the championship game of the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Saturday, March 11, at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Zips were unable to secure their fifth NCAA Tournament berth and now must await the draw of the National Invitation Tournament on Sunday, March 12 to see which opponent they will be playing in the postseason.
Akron finished the game shooting 45.6 percent from the field, including a 48.5 percent mark in the second half. A huge difference in the final outcome was Kent State's defensive efforts which limited the Zips to only six three pointers. Fueled by a 63.6 percent second-half shooting mark, the Golden Flashes connected on 53.1 percent of their attempts from the floor in the contest and was 14-for-18 at the charity stripe to seal the triumph.
Senior Isaiah Johnson (Cincinnati, Ohio) directed Akron's offensive efforts registering a 24-point, five-rebound and three-assist performance. Sophomores Jimond Ivey (Cleveland, Ohio) and Josh Williams (Akron, Ohio) added 18 and 12 points, while senior Kwan Cheatham, Jr. (Cincinnati, Ohio) pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
Jaylin Walker led all scorers with 30 points for Kent State, while Jimmy Hall contributed a 19-point, 10-rebound performance.
The Zips edged the Golden Flashes in rebounding, 31-30, including recording an 11-5 margin on the offensive glass. Points in the paint finished all square at 34 apiece, despite Akron managing a 22-14 difference in the second half. Second-chance points and fast-break tallies went in favor of the Zips, 11-10, and 10-6.
The Golden Flashes opened the contest jumping out to a 9-3 lead at the first media timeout (15:37) on the strength of making four of their first six baskets.
A 5-0 run for the Zips inched Akron within three, 11-8, following a free throw by Williams at the 13:11 mark.
The two sides then exchanged the next four baskets with Kent State nursing a slim 15-12 advantage with 7:58 remaining in the half.
The Zips twice cut their deficit to one with baskets from Johnson, before assuming their initial lead of the evening, 22-21, at the 3:25 mark off a triple from Williams. The three pointer was the first of the evening for Akron after the Zips were unable to connect on their first five attempts from beyond the arc.
The Golden Flashes responded with a 6-0 run courtesy of baskets from Hall, Kevin Zabo and Walker to push their lead to five, 27-22, with 34 seconds before halftime.
Johnson brought Akron within three points at the half with a basket to finish the first half with a team-high 10 points.
The Zips connected on 41.7 percent of their first-half shots, but were only 1-for-6 from downtown in the first 20 minutes. Kent State shot 44.4 percent from the floor in the initial stanza, and made only one of seven attempts from distance.
The Golden Flashes won the rebounding battle in the first half, 17-15, and used the advantage to post a 20-12 margin in points in the paint and 6-1 in second-chance points.
Walker paced Kent State with 11 first-half points as he combined with Hall to scored 21 of the Golden Flashes' 27 first-half points.
The Golden Flashes opened the second half with a 5-0 run to assume a 32-24 lead following a jumper by Walker at the 18:47 mark.
Exchanging the next four baskets, the Zips trailed by eight, 36-28, at the initial media timeout (15:58) of the second half.
Akron answered with a 6-0 run capped by a tip-in from Ivey to cut their deficit to two, 36-34, with 14:30 to play.
Following a triple from Walker, junior Antino Jackson (Houston, Texas) nailed a three pointer of his own before Johnson delivered a lay-up at the 12:41 mark to bring the Zips within one, 40-39.
Kent State found a corner triple from Deon Edwin to make it 43-39, before Johnson again connected on a lay-up to send Akron into the second media timeout (11:27) trailing by two, 43-41.
A driving lay-up by Johnson at the 11:15 mark squared the game at 43, but he was unable to convert the free throw to give the Zips their first lead since 22-21.
The Zips then went ahead, 46-45, and again, 49-47, on triples by Williams with 10:44 and 9:02 left, respectively, in the tilt.
The Golden Flashes countered with a 10-0 run over the next 3:35 turn a 49-47 deficit into a 57-49 lead with 4:24 remaining in the game.
A lay-up by Ivey at the 4:03 mark ended the scoring drought for the Zips, who immediately called a timeout.
A corner three from Mitch Peterson pushed Kent State's lead to nine, 60-51, before Akron scored eight of the next 12 points to inch within five, 64-59, after a lay-up by Johnson with 1:14 to play.
The Golden Flashes connected on their free throws over the final minute to secure the 70-65 victory.