CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Akron and Kent State wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
With a trip to the Mid-American Conference title game on the line, the Zips and Flashes went back-and-forth for 40 minutes. It was a one point game with less than two minutes to play.
When the final buzzer sounded, number one seeded Akron celebrated a win over fourth-seeded Kent State, 62-59, in a semifinal game of the MAC Tournament Friday at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Zips (25-6) were playing just its second game without suspended starting point guard Alex Abreu. His suspension threatened to end the team’s dream season.
“I’ve never seen anything like what our guys did,” Akron Head Coach Keith Dambrot said. “I thought we were emotionally ruptured last week. But we’ve been through a lot of battles together and you could see it tonight when we looked like we were going to not win, you just saw our guys rev it up.”
Abreu’s suspension wasn’t the only adversity Akron overcame on Friday night. The Zips also got past a slow start and awful free throw shooting (13-29 from the line) to advance to their seventh straight MAC title game appearance.
Senior Zeke Marshall led the way. The 7-foot center scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked seven shots.
“I never saw anything like what I saw from Zeke Marshall tonight,” Dambrot said of his center’s performance. “He blocked, he showed discipline when he couldn’t block and he altered. That was unbelievable.”
After being on the wrong end of a thunderous dunk by Kent State’s Chris Evans in the closing seconds of the first half, the MAC Defensive Player of the Year came out of the locker room looking like a different player.
“It was a huge momentum shift when he did that,” Marshall said of Evans dunk. “I knew I had to move on.”
That’s exactly what Marshall did.
He scored the first seven points of the second half for the Zips, including his second three pointer of the season.
Marshall picked up his third foul at the 16:30 mark of the second half. And it opened the door for a Kent State comeback.
The Flashes (20-13) went on a 12-4 run to take their first lead of the second half.
Dambrot called on his big man once again and Marshall picked up right where he left off. Only this time it was his defense, not his offense, that swung the momentum back in favor of the Zips.
“They’re the best defensive team in our league,” Kent State Head Coach Rob Senderoff said of Akron. “Zeke’s a great defensive player.”
The senior center swatted away four shots in a two minute span midway through the second half and just like that, the Zips regained the lead at the 9:19 mark. It wouldn’t last though. Kent State took the lead back on two separate occasions.
“Our kids have tremendous grit, resolve and toughness,” Senderoff said.
It was a one point game with under 2:00 minutes to play. The Zips struggles at the free throw line kept the door open for an upset. But Akron finished the game on an 8-2 run as Kent State missed four of their last five shots.
“I think we got some good looks from the perimeter that just didn’t fall for us,” Kent State guard Randal Holt said.
A costly turnover late didn’t help the cause. An errant pass was taken away by Akron’s Demetrius Treadwell, leading to a made free throw and an advantage the Zips would not relinquish.
“I felt like I couldn’t let Chris Evans get the ball,” Treadwell said of his key defensive play. “They got lazy on the pass so I just jumped the pass and stole the ball.”
Treadwell added 14 points for the Zips.
Holt finished the game with 19 points to lead the way for Kent State.
Chris Evans, who scored 25 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds on Thursday night, struggled all night long. Evans had just six points on 1-of-11 shooting before fouling out.