By now, most fans of mid-major basketball probably know how intense Kent State and Akron's rivalry is. At least one of the two schools has reached the MAC championship game in each of the past six seasons. ESPN2 has televised three of their last four meetings. Last year's conference championship ended in a skirmish after Akron players celebrated and inadvertently trampled Kent State guard Michael Porrini.
The mere 14 miles of proximity between them adds to the intensity, as the visiting team's fans always travel well. Because Kent State reserves two sections of the M.A.C. Center for Akron fans, the AK Rowdies student section is assured a presence. According to the AK Rowdies' website, their mission is to support the Zips sports programs "through cheering and good-natured harassment." They are good at both of those things.
During Friday night's game, each chant the Akron fans started was loud and in unison the instant it began, whether the Zips were down nine or up 11. Cheering: check. Kent State fans and cheerleaders often resorted to a chant of "K-S-U-(clap)," which proved unfortunate when the AK Rowdies promptly replaced the clap with a very audible yell of "SUCKS!" Good-natured harassment: check.
Kent State's student section has nowhere near the organization and coordination of the AK Rowdies. A student group named The Krew makes an effort to improve fan turnout, but any success it's had pales in comparison to what the AK Rowdies have accomplished.
If we assume that fan noise can have an effect on the game's momentum, Kent State surely took comfort in knowing the game had sold out, and that an overwhelming majority of the 6,335 in attendance were sporting the Kent shade of gold. This was only the second sellout of the season, but the Flashes had overcome the disappointing turnouts and built a 12-2 home record. However, the two losses had oddly occurred in the two best-attended matchups, against other local rival Cleveland State and BracketBuster opponent Charleston.
Nonetheless, the best way for Kent State fans to make sure the AK Rowdies couldn't be a noticeable distraction was to fill every open seat and hope the Flashes give them reason to cheer early and often.
Sure enough, Flashes fans had reason to cheer early on. A breakaway score by Randal Holt. A Carlton Guyton backdoor pass to Porrini. A Guyton steal and toss to Holt, who then alley-ooped it back to Guyton for an #omgdunx. Kent State built a 16-8 lead.
Kent State may have been winning, but it wasn't getting buckets quickly enough to keep its student section noisy. When a five-and-a-half-minute scoring drought allowed Akron to make the game an 18-18 deadlock, suddenly the few hundred Zips fans were making their voices unmissable, while the home crowd not only lost its energy but was hardly even trying to regenerate it.
The half did end on a 9-0 Kent State run. At one point, Justin Manns was so wide open for an #omgdunx the Zips couldn't have made that mistake again if they tried. Akron finished the half with 14 turnovers and just seven field goals. But with a 15-minute halftime to eliminate all momentum, that lead clearly wasn't safe.
In the schools' previous meeting in Akron, the Flashes held a 48-38 lead with 16 minutes left; the Zips proceeded to go on a 38-15 run. In a recent game at Bowling Green, the Flashes trailed 51-48 with 12:30 remaining; the Falcons finished on a 23-10 run. Two days ago, the Flashes built a seemingly comfortable 53-37 lead on Ohio with twelve minutes on the clock; they won, but not before the Bobcats went on a 19-6 run to narrow the lead to three.
With that in mind, it wasn't too surprising that Akron needed little more than the first four minutes of the second half to turn its 27-18 deficit into a 30-27 lead. Brian Walsh hit a superhoop, Zeke Marshall hit a jumper and drew a foul, Chauncey Gilliam made another jumper, and Walsh and Alex Abreu followed with layups. Kent State, players and fans both, failed to show any resolve for the remainder of the game.
If you omit Kent State's three meaningless superhoops in the final minute, the Flashes had 18 field goals and 18 turnovers, and Guyton missed all six of his heaves from beyond the arc. They missed 11 of their 21 layups. After Porrini made four layups in the first 11 minutes, he didn't score again until 2:02 remained. Justin Greene missed his first eight attempts from the field, as well as his first three from the line.
On the other hand, Akron responded to its 14-turnover first half by committing just three in the second half. The Zips needed fewer than six minutes to match its first half scoring total. Gilliam and Marshall led the team with 12 points each despite both having just two at halftime.
Numbers don't lie, but sometimes actions speak louder. Just in case the stat sheet hadn't stung enough, the Zips didn't hesitate to rub it in during garbage time. Abreu tossed an alley-oop pass to Marshall for a monster #omgdunx; the team celebrated its first ever outright MAC regular-season title on their rival's floor; and the AK Rowdies unfurled a massive banner that read, "I LOVE DANCING ON PORRINI!"
AKRON 61, at KENT STATE 55 03/02/2012
AKRON 21-10 (13-3) -- A. Abreu 3-12 4-4 10; Z. Marshall 3-4 6-8 12; B. Walsh 2-8 5-6 10; N. Cvetinovic 2-5 0-0 5; C. Gilliam 5-8 1-2 12; Q. Diggs 1-6 0-2 2; D. Treadwell 3-5 0-0 6; B. McClanahan 1-3 0-0 2; N. Harney 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-52 16-22 61. KENT STATE 20-10 (10-6) -- C. Guyton 5-13 1-1 12; M. Porrini 6-13 0-0 14; J. Greene 2-10 4-8 8; R. Holt 2-9 0-0 5; C. Evans 3-5 2-4 8; J. Manns 2-2 0-0 4; E. Gaines 1-4 2-2 4; P. Jackson 0-0 0-1 0; K. Brewer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-56 9-16 55.
Three-point goals: AKR 3-17 (C. Gilliam 1-2; B. Walsh 1-3; B. McClanahan 0-1; N. Cvetinovic 1-2; Z. Marshall 0-1; Q. Diggs 0-3; A. Abreu 0-5), KENT 4-15 (M. Porrini 2-4; C. Evans 0-1; R. Holt 1-2; E. Gaines 0-1; C. Guyton 1-7); Rebounds: AKR 28 (Z. Marshall 7), KENT 34 (J. Greene 13); Assists: AKR 9 (A. Abreu 5), KENT 14 (C. Guyton 4); Total Fouls -- AKR 17, KENT 17; Fouled Out: AKR-N. Cvetinovic; KENT-None.