Roller coasters representing the Kent State and Akron men's basketball teams will make their final regular-season stops tonight at JAR Arena.
The Golden Flashes (16-14, 7-10 MAC) and Zips (19-11, 11-6) have both endured a seemingly endless series of ups and downs throughout the 2013-14 campaign, and both will look to end Mid-American Conference play on a high note when the bitter backyard rivals square off at 7 p.m. in front of a packed house and a national television audience.
The efforts both teams have put forth during the past week sum up their respective seasons.
Akron dropped its third straight game at Miami (65-61) on Feb. 26, but bounced back by knocking off Bowling Green (57-47) and MAC East Division leader Buffalo (83-71) at home.
"Just like a lot of (MAC) teams, a week ago they were playing really poorly, this week they're playing really well," said KSU coach Rob Senderoff.
Meanwhile, Kent State upset defending MAC regular-season champion Ohio 75-61 last Saturday in Athens, then got drubbed at home by Miami 73-61 on Tuesday on Senior Night.
"Teams come and play hard, and we don't match the intensity and that's why we lose," said Senderoff. "We had a great start to the season (8-1), and since then, we've been one day up, one day down. For all I know we'll play phenomenally (tonight) -- it's Akron, it's on national TV, so now we'll compete very, very hard. But they're good, though. Akron's gonna have something to say about it too."
Titles have typically been on the line when the Flashes and Zips meet late in the season over the past decade since Keith Dambrot took over the Akron program. This one doesn't mean nearly as much as many of the others, but there certainly is a great deal at stake.
"It's a big game whenever you play them, regardless of what it's for," said Senderoff. "It's a game the fans look forward to, the players look forward to. It's gonna be a tough game, as it would be no matter how they're playing, or how we're playing."
The Zips can snatch a share of the East Division title with a win and a Buffalo loss at home to Bowling Green, but more importantly, they can secure a bye into the third round of the MAC tourney by defeating the Flashes.
Kent State can lock up a home game in the opening round of the tournament on Monday with a win and a Northern Illinois loss to Ball State. The Flashes (7-10 MAC), Huskies (7-10), Miami (8-9) and Bowling Green (6-11) are jockeying for position for seeds 7 through 10. These teams will matchup with one another in the opening round, but the pairings and sites will not be determined until regular season play ends on Saturday.
Kent State has won two of the past three tilts with Akron, including a thrilling 60-57 victory on Feb. 1 at the M.A.C. Center in Kent. The Flashes led by four with 1:07 left, but the Zips rallied to tie it before KSU senior forward Darren Goodson banked in a 3-pointer to win it in the final seconds.
"It was a great game. Darren hit a huge shot to win it," said Senderoff. "We certainly know we can beat them, but we also know they can beat us. We're gonna have to play well, and we'll have to compete really hard as a team."
Goodson reached double figures in the next two games after his buzzer-beater, but has not done so since. He's averaging 9.2 points per game on the season, but just 4.7 in his last seven games.
Junior guard Kris Brewer leads the Flashes in scoring at 11.9 points per game, but is coming off a two-points, zero-assists effort against Miami. Junior guard Derek Jackson (11.1 ppg) is the only other KSU player averaging in double figures, although junior guard Devareaux Manley (9.8 ppg, 39 percent 3-pointers) has averaged over 14 points in his last five games.
The Zips are led by 6-foot-7, 235-pound senior forward Demetrius Treadwell, a sure-fire First Team All-MAC performer who averages 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest, along with 6-6 senior Quincy Diggs (12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds). Akron has been missing several key players due to various issues, but 6-8 senior forward Nick Harney (8.8 ppg) has played the past two games after returning from a suspension and 6-7 sophomore wing Reggie McAdams (6.8 ppg, 41 percent 3-pointers) returned to action on Tuesday.
The Flashes won the first matchup this year in major part because of their ability to hold their own on the boards. Treadwell had 16 points and 10 rebounds, but didn't completely dominate the post as he has in several previous games against Kent State.
"We're gonna have to do a good job on the glass, and our guards are gonna have to play very, very well," said Senderoff. "We're gonna have to play well to win."
Senderoff doesn't think a triumph over the Zips will mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly would feel good for a night.
"I don't' think who wins or loses this game will have any bearing on the (MAC) Tournament. The tournament's a whole new animal," he said. "We want to win cause we want to win, cause it's a big game for us."
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