KENT, OHIO---With the work week over and four mid-major conference leaders lacing up against top challengers, Friday evening was a college basketball junkie's dream. And this dream started with some MACtion in Kent, Ohio.
Although the Mid-American Conference leading Akron Zips entered as winners of eight of their last nine, the Kent State Golden Flashes weathered a late comeback by their opponent on the shoulders of fantastic performances from the frontcourt duo of Khaliq Spicer and Jimmy Hall.
Both offenses' scalding hot early, Akron and Kent State quickly soared to double-figure point totals before the first media timeout (10-10). However, the defenses soon entered the gym, for two minutes ran off without a single point being added!
Nonetheless, the two went and back before the Golden Flashes' Kellon Thomas went on a personal 7-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a six-point lead (29-23 KSU). Yet, that's not all! Despite Isaiah Johnson breaking the Zips' scoring drought (he would have a game-high 24 points and 9 rebounds), Kent State big man Jimmy Hall tacked on four of his 17 points prior to his squad advancing their advantage to 11 with 2:20 remaining in the first half (40-29 KSU). The scoreboard changed very little before the halftime horn as the home team possessed a 42-32 edge going into the halftime locker room.
Kent State, continuing to tickle the twine with great frequency on a night they finished at 51.8%, quickly upped the margin to a game-high 15 with a Deon Edwin layup just 107 seconds into the second half. Though, the matchup would turn on a dime. Or maybe the better term is a layup.
Definitely in a "fight or flight" situation, considering the increase to what they trailed at halftime, Akron started to chip away thanks to back-to-back baskets by Antino Jackson (48-38 KSU). Furthermore, Williams was handed the scoring baton, which resulted in a six-point ballgame. The Zips were zipping back!
Following an impressive "5-on-1" showing by Akron's Josh Williams (he scored seven straight), a 7-0 spurt ensued, capped off by a Kwan Cheatham Jr. triple, to knot it at 61.
How could the Golden Flashes allow such a large lead to evaporate?
Well, they struggled to actually get shots to the rim. During a two minute stretch, Kent State turned over the ball five times! In fact, when the Golden Flashes actually were able to attempt field goals, they made them. Thus, when the ball crossed half court, the blue and gold swiftly took back control with 8 of Khaliq Spicer's 22 points, which finished a 12-1 domination that consumed 4 minutes and 7 seconds. 73-62 Kent State!
But Akron was not dead yet!
Because of a surge from beyond the arc, the Zips drilled three triples, two by Jake Kretzer, to pull within five with 1:11 remaining in regulation (76-71 KSU). Unfortunately if you are an Akron fan, Kent State was near perfect at the charity stripe (9-of-10), meaning only treys would wither the deficit. The Zips finished 1-for-5.
The Golden Flashes had come, saw, and flashed their talent to pull only one game behind tonight's opponent in the MAC East Division.
Three Fantastic Performances
When second leading scorer Xavier Pollard was lost due to a foot injury, the Kent State Golden Flashes immediately struggled. Who wouldn't with such an impactful "star senior" missing? Nevertheless, "jazzy juniors" Jimmy Hall and Kelon Thomas have stepped up to average 34.5 points per game in the last five before this evening. Without a doubt, they out did themselves on Friday.
The Golden Flashes, needing all the points they could get against a high octane Akron squad, received monster performances from the two as Hall posted 17 points and 8 rebounds while Thomas netted 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Also contributing greatly--and somewhat surprisingly--was senior Khaliq Spencer, who pulled down a near double-double of 22 points and 8 rebounds.
18-9 (9-5) Kent State travels to Buffalo on Tuesday for an important contest against the Bulls.
Giving Away First Place?
Less than a week ago, college life was great in Akron, as the Zips had a multi-game lead over, not only the MAC East Division, but the whole Mid-American Conference. Thanks to two losses in their last three, things have drastically changed.
Akron, now only one game ahead in both the division and league in general (Ball State won tonight to also move to 9-5 in conference play), finds themselves between a rock in a hard place considering they close out the regular season with matchups versus the two top challengers in their division. Furthermore, a rematch with Akron is one of the aforementioned games which, with a win for the Golden Flashes, could supply a tiebreaker for Kent State over the Zips.
Fortunately there is a beacon of hope in this horror like scenario for Isaiah Johnson's group: The pair of crucial showdowns will take place inside the James A. Rhodes Arena where they have not lost a game all season!
Before starting their three-game home slate to send them to the conference tournament, the 21-6 (10-4) Zips face Miami (OH) in Oxford on Tuesday.