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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
If you're a Kent State men's basketball backer, you could look at the timing of your team's first matchup of the 2013-14 season with rival Akron tonight at the M.A.C. Center in two entirely different ways.
On one hand, it couldn't be worse.
Your Golden Flashes (11-9) are struggling immensely. They've lost four in a row overall and five of their last six games at home, where they've shot above 42 percent from the field just once in their last eight halves of play, and they're dead last in the Mid-American Conference East Division with a 2-5 record.
About the last thing they need to face right now would be a red-hot backyard rival Zips squad (14-6) that's all alone atop the East at 6-1 after winning eight of its last nine games.
On the other hand, it couldn't be better.
Any temptation to wallow in self-pity after letting a 13-point lead slip away in the final 12 minutes of a demoralizing 50-49 home loss to lowly Northern Illinois on Wednesday should be suppressed. Memories must be short, because Akron's coming to town and nothing else really matters once tip-off time arrives at 6 p.m.
Obviously, third-year KSU coach Rob Senderoff is hoping his team buys into the latter theory on timing.
Although Senderoff is not sure what to make of his struggling squad at the moment.
"I do think (playing a rival) does help you (forget the past)," said Senderoff. "I hope so."
There's no denying that at this point the two teams appear to be heading in opposite directions.
After struggling through a portion of their difficult non-conference schedule, the defending MAC tourney champion Zips have found their stride as expected. Seniors Demetrius Treadwell and Quincy Diggs have emerged as leaders, with plenty of help from a talented and deep supporting cast that features senior Nick Harney (6-foot-8 forward, 8.4 ppg) and sophomores Jake Kretzer (6-7 wing, 8.7 ppg, 36.3 percent 3-pointers) and Reggie McAdams (6-7 wing, 6.6 ppg, 40.7 3-pointers).
Treadwell (6-7) is averaging 13.9 points and 8.3 rebounds overall, but those numbers rise to 15.7 and 9.4 against MAC foes. Diggs, the MAC's Sixth Man of the Year in 2011-12, who missed all of last season due to a suspension, plays several positions for the Zips at 6-6 and averages 12.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
"Treadwell is a beast, Diggs is playing at a high level right now and Kretzer's playing great," said Senderoff. "Then they're getting contributions from different guys on different nights. They pound the ball inside, they're very physical and they shoot the 3 very well. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Meanwhile, the Flashes are sorely lacking swagger at the moment. After starting the season 8-1 they've fallen on extremely hard times, losing their last two games at home 75-59 to Western Michigan -- KSU's most lopsided home loss in nearly 16 years -- and 50-49 to the Huskies on Wednesday, when they scored a meager six points in the final 12:28.
"We stopped playing (in the final 12:28), and I don't have an answer for it," said Senderoff.
Junior point guard Kris Brewer, who leads the Flashes in scoring (12.1 points, 2.9 assists), shot 0-for-7 from the field for two points against NIU. Brewer and fellow starting guards Derek Jackson (10.8 ppg) and Kellon Thomas combined to shoot 3-for-21 from the floor. Senior forward Darren Goodson (10.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists) led the team with just 10 points and committed three turnovers.
After averaging over 80 points per game while reeling off seven straight home wins to start the season, the Flashes are scoring just 62.7 points per contest in their last six games at the M.A.C.C., including 86 in the one victory during that stretch over Ball State.
Add it all up, and there's really nothing on paper that would lead anyone to believe Kent State can upset Akron tonight, even at home. But rivalries often bring the unpredictability factor into the equation, which can produce stunning results.
The Flashes weren't thought to be in the Zips' class last year, but they were literally a couple rebounds and missed 3-pointers away from sweeping Akron. They did manage to defeat Akron once, 68-64 on the road the day after Zips point guard Alex Abreu's drug-related suspension, then lost 62-59 in the MAC Tournament semifinals when Randal Holt missed a pair of potential game-winning 3-pointers in the closing seconds.
The keys to knocking off this year's Zips?
"We have to defend in the post, and we're gonna have to rebound the ball -- that's gonna be really important," said Senderoff, whose squad has struggled on the boards in MAC play (minus-4.9 rebounding margin). "They're gonna make some 3s, but we have to force them to shoot a low percentage from the arc."
The Flashes will also need to forget the recent past and focus entirely on earning a potential season-salvaging victory tonight.
"We know this is a big game," said Senderoff. "We know we have to play hard, and have to play well."
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier