The sport of boxing has its memorable rivalries. Ali-Frazier. Tyson-Holyfield. Whenever they matched up in the ring, it wasn't really about the fight. It was about the event as a whole. The weigh-in, the verbal sparring, and the actual fight all played in to the experience that was a boxing match. That's why you would see the roman numerals in the titles of the fights when they had previously met before. Promoters probably thought that since the first match was so exciting, the next deserved a higher billing. Boxing is really the only sport that does this. You never really see Heat-Bulls II or Celtics-Lakers XXXVI (or however many times they have played each other). This is mainly because these games aren't really about the before and after that happens after boxing matches. In leagues like the NBA, it's really just another game, especially for fans. Do I remember who won the last Thunder-Lakers match-up? No, but that's because it doesn't really matter until the playoffs.
We even see this in movies too, where sequels are almost the norm and are sometimes better than the original film (high emphasis on "sometimes"). I'm looking at you Grease II and Caddyshack II. The point is, you really don't remember anything special about these movies or games. There really doesn't need to be a sequel in the case of those movies, but because the first one was so successful producers thought it best to make another.
College basketball is another story. In average leagues, you see a team twice in one season. Once at your place and once at theirs. You get to know the team and their players, and the opponent gets to know yours. Now, with conference tournaments in the mix, there is a chance to play three times in one season. After two games, a coach should have figured out the opponent. He knows what works, what doesn't, who to play against who, and the proper distribution of playing time.
When that opponent is Kent State or Akron, you really know what you're in for. The two rivals came into the Mid-American Conference Tournament Semi-finals as the #4 and #1 seeds, respectively. Akron lead the season series 2-0 and had won four of the last five (see the recap of the first game here and the recaps of the second game here and here). Basically the games had gone like this: Kent State races out to an eight or nine point halftime lead, in totally dominating fashion. Then the Zips come roaring back with a huge run to take the lead and eventually push it out to double digits. The Flashes make it semi-interesting in the end, but the Zips prevail.
This all changed in Akron-Kent State III. The two teams played even basketball until the nine minute mark in the first half, where Akron raised a mere two point lead into a nine point lead in less than three minutes. The Flashes were able to cut it to five at the half. It would seem that the script had flipped from the prior meetings, and a run out of Kent State was expected. And that's what happened. A quick 6-0 spurt put Kent back in the lead, and the Zips felt the pressure mounting. They responded with three straight threes, a jumper, and a three-point play that seemed to take the life out of the Flashes. That outburst pushed the lead to thirteen with around thirteen minutes to go, and the Zips could smell their spot in the Championship game. Kent cut into it a little but were never really able to get close enough to strike. Then, in the only characteristic that carried over from the previous match-ups, the Flashes made it interesting. Randal Holt hit a three to cut the lead to three with 28 seconds left. Brian Walsh promptly made two freebies, then Holt struck again from deep. This time, Alex Abreu netted the free throws, and Kent couldn't answer. In a season where hitting free throws was always a problem, the Zips hit them when they mattered.
There is an overused adage in college basketball that it is hard to beat an opponent three times in one season. The odds of a season sweep between two evenly-matched teams are very low, especially when a rivalry is involved. But, on this night, that adage was squashed.
Akron and Kent State fans alike will remember the events of the three match-ups this year. The Zips will remember the scrappy comebacks and the clutch free throw shooting, while the Flashes will be left wondering where that type of play exhibited in the first half went to in the second. Ultimately, there will be no Kent State-Akron IV this year, but if there would be, you could expect much of the same.
AKRON 78, KENT STATE 74 03/09/2012
KENT STATE 21-11 (10-6) -- M. Porrini 4-11 3-5 11; J. Greene 6-11 8-9 20; R. Holt 7-13 3-5 21; C. Guyton 1-3 0-0 2; J. Manns 3-3 2-2 8; E. Gaines 2-3 3-3 8; P. Jackson 1-1 0-0 2; C. Evans 1-4 0-0 2; B. Frank 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-49 19-24 74. AKRON 22-10 (13-3) -- A. Abreu 3-6 4-6 13; N. Cvetinovic 6-12 1-1 15; B. Walsh 1-8 2-4 5; C. Gilliam 3-4 3-4 11; Z. Marshall 3-4 2-5 8; Q. Diggs 4-8 0-0 8; N. Harney 4-6 4-4 12; D. Treadwell 2-4 2-4 6; B. McClanahan 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 26-56 18-28 78.
Three-point goals: KENT 5-12 (M. Porrini 0-3; C. Evans 0-2; R. Holt 4-6; E. Gaines 1-1), AKR 8-20 (C. Gilliam 2-3; B. Walsh 1-4; B. McClanahan 0-4; N. Cvetinovic 2-3; Q. Diggs 0-2; A. Abreu 3-4); Rebounds: KENT 26 (J. Greene 8), AKR 34 (Z. Marshall 8); Assists: KENT 15 (M. Porrini 9), AKR 16 (B. Walsh 4); Total Fouls -- KENT 20, AKR 23; Fouled Out: KENT-None; AKR-Z. Marshall.