15 miles. That's all that separates Kent State University and The University of Akron. As an Akron student, one of the first things that is ingrained in you as a freshman is the intensity of the rivalry. I'm really surprised that there isn't a class that is taught at either institution about the rivalry. A good deal of the chants of the Ak-Rowdies, Akron's student section, revolve around the ire of the team to the east. Choruses of "KSU...CKS!" ring out at Zips games, even those not against the Golden Flashes. And when these two teams get together on any type of playing field, it becomes personal. Here's where you throw in the über-cliche "throw out the records." It certainly helps that both schools have been very competitive in the Mid-American Conference for the past decade, so the records actually add fuel to the fire. Last season, the Zips took 2 of 3 against the Golden Flashes, including the thrilling MAC Championship game. Revenge is always a factor in these games, as whoever lost the last meeting certainly doesn't want to lose twice to a rival in the same season.
The players know the rivalry well. Kent State guard Michael Porrini was quoted before the game saying, "We have some unfinished business with Akron." Many Akron players, though, only know the rivalry through what they saw while sitting out last season. Six newcomers, including freshmen, transfers, and non-qualifiers had yet to participate in their first real rivalry game. One of those newcomers enjoyed the best game of his college career in one of the biggest and most important games of the season.
This game was no exception. Fans were encouraged to "white-out" Kent State and by Friday the game was officially sold out. The 1,000 tickets available to students were gobbled up by Thursday. Both teams and fanbases knew the importance of this game. The line at the student entrance started forming around 3:30 (for a 6:00 tip) and these cookies were passed out to those braving the twenty degree weather:
(Originally "Beat Kent," but this works too)
The game started with an electric atmosphere. The white-out looked good for the most part, and James A. Rhodes Arena was filled to capacity. The University of Akron President Dr. Luis Proenza was in the house, sporting his recognizable golden tie. Akron had a 3-1 record in conference play, while Kent State stood at 2-2. A loss by the Zips would really make the conference race wide open, and a loss by the Flashes would leave them at a rather unfamiliar sub-.500 record in East division play.
The first half was back and forth for a good deal of the first half. The Zips jumped out to a 6-0 lead, then the Flashes responded with their own 6-0 run. A massive game of tug-of-war ensued, as the two rivals traded made and missed baskets on each end. But, near the end of the half, Kent State made a run by capitalizing on the Zips' turnovers. They went on a 21-10 run to close out the half, and headed into the locker room with an eight point lead. Zips fans started to get a little nervous, as Kent had shown that they really wanted this one.
If Charles Dickens was a fan of basketball (and still alive), he could definitely write another best seller called "A Tale of Two Halves," which would feature basketball teams that for whatever reason cannot bring the same defensive prowess or shot-making ability achieved in the first half into the second half. Dickens would certainly be able to write a whole chapter on the last two Kent State basketball games, for they are the perfect example of this phenomenon. In their last game at Ohio University, they were only down three at halftime, which is very respectable considering it was a road game at a quality opponent. Then the Bobcats opened up a 21-2 can and never looked back. The Zips never went on that big of a run, but the same story repeated itself. Down nine with twelve minutes left, the Zips suddenly went on a 12-0 run consisting of four 3-pointers. Kent became turnover happy and this time it was the Zips who capitalized, pushing it out to a nine point lead. That's when newcomer Nick Harney stole the show. He scored the next ten points, including a "where did he come from?" alley-oop that pushed the lead to thirteen. He finished with 21 points in just 14 minutes of play, and showed superior athleticism while doing it.
The final was 84-75, Akron. Behind Harney, the Zips scored 50 points in the second half. Randal Holt, a former high school teammate of Harney's, paced the Flashes with 27 points on 9-14 shooting. The MAC now starts cross-divisional play, in which the East division normally flexes its muscle against the West. But, as in all mid-major conferences, you can never claim that your business is finished until you win that conference tournament and see your name on Selection Sunday.
at AKRON 84, KENT STATE 75 01/21/2012
KENT STATE 12-6 (2-3) -- R. Holt 9-14 6-7 27; M. Porrini 3-11 1-1 7; C. Guyton 3-14 2-2 9; J. Greene 5-13 1-1 11; C. Evans 3-4 2-2 9; J. Manns 3-4 0-2 6; P. Jackson 2-4 0-0 4; K. Brewer 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 28-65 14-17 75. AKRON 12-7 (4-1) -- A. Abreu 2-5 2-2 6; Q. Diggs 3-8 0-0 8; N. Cvetinovic 3-8 2-3 9; C. Gilliam 5-7 0-0 11; Z. Marshall 3-6 1-2 7; B. Walsh 4-6 0-0 10; B. McClanahan 2-4 0-0 5; D. Treadwell 3-7 1-2 7; N. Harney 10-12 1-2 21. Totals 35-63 7-11 84.
Three-point goals: KENT 5-14 (M. Porrini 0-2; C. Evans 1-2; R. Holt 3-5; C. Guyton 1-4; K. Brewer 0-1), AKR 7-16 (C. Gilliam 1-3; B. Walsh 2-4; B. McClanahan 1-1; N. Cvetinovic 1-2; Q. Diggs 2-4; A. Abreu 0-2); Rebounds: KENT 24 (J. Greene 7), AKR 37 (D. Treadwell 9); Assists: KENT 11 (M. Porrini 5), AKR 21 (A. Abreu 7); Total Fouls -- KENT 14, AKR 15; Fouled Out: KENT-None; AKR-None.