By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
A mediocre effort level mighty Akron brought into the early stages of Saturday's showdown at Kent State was effectively swatted away like a weak layup attempt.
But just like defending champions loaded with proven veterans do, the Zips ratcheted their intensity up several notches in the second half … roughly one more notch than a game but inexperienced group of Golden Flashes could match.
Akron erased a 10-point halftime deficit mostly by dominating the glass to an unheard-of degree, and outscored Kent State 11-4 in the final 2:28 to steal a 71-67 victory before a sellout crowd of 6,313 at the M.A.C. Center that increases its winning streak in this bitter backyard rivalry to five straight.
The Zips (13-4, 4-0 MAC), who earned their ninth consecutive win, outrebounded the Flashes (11-7, 2-2) 51-39 overall and 31-13 in the final 20 minutes behind 6-foot-7 junior forward Demetrius Treadwell (15 points, 16 rebounds) and 7-foot senior center Zeke Marshall (17 points, 11 rebounds). Treadwell (10 second-half boards) actually outboarded Kent State himself for much of the second half, when Akron grabbed more offensive rebounds (17) than the Flashes had total rebounds (13).
"The second-half rebounding numbers, it's like nothing I've ever seen before," said second-year KSU coach Rob Senderoff, who fell to 0-4 against the Zips. "They were playing volleyball in there."
Despite its incredible boardwork, Akron still trailed 63-60 after Flashes sophomore guard Kris Brewer drilled a 3-pointer with 2:28 remaining. But back-to-back 3s by junior guards Brian Walsh and Alex Abreu, who otherwise struggled all afternoon, gave the Zips a 66-63 advantage at the 1:38 mark.
"I ran two plays for two guys who hardly made a shot the whole game," said veteran Akron coach Keith Dambrot. "Sometimes you just gotta ride guys that you believe in."
Brewer, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, answered with another 3 to knot the contest again with 1:20 to play. But after Marshall made a pair of free throws following a questionable foul call on junior forward Melvin Tabb to put the Zips ahead to stay, Kent State produced just one point on its final four possessions.
The Flashes suffered a costly turnover when Tabb couldn't handle a hot pass in the paint from senior Chris Evans, then fellow senior Randal Holt had a runner bounce off both sides of the rim and out. Marshall made 1-of-2 free throws after both failed possessions, effectively putting the game away.
"If we get a stop in particular when we're up three it's probably a different outcome, but we didn't," said Senderoff. "That's why they're a very, very good team; they make plays when they need to."
Still, the Flashes' inability to execute down the stretch was not what disappointed Senderoff the most.
"My biggest disappointment is rebounding," said Senderoff. "We really, really competed on the glass in the first half, and maybe they didn't go as hard, I don't know. In the second half they really were determined, and we didn't match what we needed to match."
A flurry of first-half offensive rebounds actually ignited the Flashes, who trailed by six early but closed the half on a 16-2 run to take a 36-26 lead. Junior forward Darren Goodson poured in 14 points, burying a pair of catch-and-shoot 3s, and Kent State outrebounded Akron 26-20 in the first 20 minutes.
"I feel like we were hungrier than they were in the first half," said Goodson.
Despite watching his Zips shoot 1-of-7 from the foul line and 1-of-10 from 3-point range while getting outworked on both ends, Dambrot kept his emotions in check in the locker room at halftime.
"As you know I'm a yeller and screamer, but at halftime I didn't yell at them a bit," he said. "Kent played with unbelievable effort, and had some guys really step up and shoot the ball well in the first half. We just couldn't make shots, so there's no sense in getting on guys that are already a little frazzled.
"We felt like we were fortunate to only be down 10 after shooting so poorly. We felt like we were going to win at halftime. There was no doubt in our mind."
Treadwell took over quickly in the second half, grabbing one offensive board after another as the reinvigorated Zips chipped away at the deficit. A 10-1 run that featured a tip-in by Treadwell and a 3-pointer by reserve guard Chauncey Gilliam (11 points in 16 minutes) cut KSU's lead to 47-46 with 9:48 to play. No team led by more than four from that point on.
Second-chance points told the story, as Akron rolled up a 23-8 advantage -- including a 16-3 edge in the second half.
"It seemed to me we came up with a lot of the 50-50 balls in the first half when it was loose, and they came up with the 50-50 balls in the second half," said Senderoff. "In the first half rebounding led to us playing well and getting the lead and keeping the momentum. We just never got that in the second half."
Kent State shot just 28.6 percent in the final 20 minutes and made just six field goals. Brewer (12) and Evans (11) combined for 23 of the Flashes' 31 second-half points, while Goodson missed both of his shots and did not score.
Evans turned in another solid performance for the Flashes, leading the team with 19 points, seven rebounds and two steals. But after busting out of a lengthy shooting slump in the past two games, Holt shot 1-of-11 from the field and 0-of-5 from 3-point range for seven points.
"I thought he took good shots," said Senderoff. "They went up two (68-66) and we ran a play to have him drive and either kick or shoot this little mid-range shot that he's good at making, and it seemed like it hit every part of the rim and came out. Give them some credit for doing a good job defensively, but I think he missed some shots he'd normally make."
Senderoff admitted that missing an opportunity to upset the Zips is a bitter pill to swallow.
"It's not easy to bounce back from this loss because our guys were emotionally invested in this one,"said Senderoff. "We played really hard and we didn't win. But our kids have been resilient all year long, and I expect our kids to be resilient and come back and compete hard (Wednesday at Bowling Green). I do feel like we're growing up. But we'll see how grown up we are on Wednesday."
n Dambrot, who had a heated exchange with Senderoff after a hard but legal foul by KSU junior forward Mark Henniger on Marshall in the first half, had much more kind words for the Flashes afterward. "They're good now. Don't be fooled by all that youngness," he said. "When they're good players it doesn't matter how young you are. They played better than us most of the game, but we just pulled it out."
n Senderoff was asked about playing in front of a capacity crowd at home. "Our fans were great today. My big thing is we need you to come more often. Our kids deserve it. Akron kids deserve it at Akron, too. Our programs are both too good to not have more attention by the fan bases outside of the games against each other."
n New Kent State football coach Paul Haynes addressed the sellout crowd at halftime, and had several of his players -- including speedster Dri Archer -- roll out the Wagon Wheel. According to sources, 10 football recruits were on hand for Saturday's game.