Flashes Fall Short in MAC Championship

Written by on March 17, 2024

The biggest game of the MAC season featured the conference’s biggest rivalry, the Akron Zips and Kent State Golden Flashes.

The Zips swept Kent in the regular season, winning both games and taking a one-game lead in the all-time series record.

VonCameron Davis, who scored 26 in the upset in the quarterfinal victory against Toledo, scored the first five for the Flashes to give them an early 5-3 lead.  Akron responded with a short 6-2 run to give them the one-point lead.

The teams exchanged scores at a slow rate, but Kent was able to gain a 22-15 advantage with over five minutes to go in the first half.

The Zips took advantage of very questionable officiating over the next few possessions and cut the lead to 24-23 with 3:20 to go in the half. Akron then took the lead on a three-point shot from Ali Ali. 

The lead grew to four with just over a minute to go in the half, and Ali Ali again nailed a three along with a free throw to extend the lead to eight.

Jalen Sullinger buried a deep three-pointer just before the buzzer to make their halftime deficit 34-29.

Kent State’s defense played well through the first 15 minutes of the game, giving up just 15 points in that span, but they surrendered 19 points in the final five minutes of the half. 

The offense also slowed down a bit, only scoring seven points in the final 5:30 of the half. 

After combining to go 11 of 15 from three-point range in the semifinal, Jalen Sullinger and Giovanni Santigo combined for one of six shooting for three in the first half in the championship.

The Zips’ offense, which usually waits until the second half to explode, finished the half strong and would need to continue to play that way in the second half.

With both teams performing better offensively in the second half in each of their two previous tournament games, the team that would be able to make defensive adjustments would walk away victorious. 

After nailing a deep three just before halftime, Jalen Sullinger hit another on the opening possession of the second half to cut the lead to two.

After a basket by Akron, Sullinger buried another to cut the lead to one. However, the Zips came right back with their own three-pointer.

Sullinger again answered, this time with a two, scoring eight points in the first two minutes of the second half.

MAC player Enrique Freeman converted a layup while getting fouled and made the free throw to push the lead back up to five.

Akron’s offense stalled, but Kent was unable to make good on the opportunity as their offense was slow as well.

The Flashes offense managed to score some baskets over the next few minutes and tied the game with a little over 12 minutes remaining in the game.

A pair of free throws put Akron up a couple, but a 4-0 run by VonCameron Davis put the Flashes in the lead for the first time since the first half. A jump shot by Giovanni Santiago pushed the lead to 50-46 with over ten and a half minutes left in the game.

The offense for Akron continued to sputter, but so did the offense of the Flashes, only scoring a single free throw in the next few minutes.

A 5-0 run by Akron tied the game at 51 apiece with 6:52 left. Both sides struggled for points for the next couple minutes, but an Enrique Freeman three-pointer put the Zips back up 54-52 with 4:38 on the clock.

After missing an open three-pointer, Kent State played good defense, but Akron knocked down a deep three late in the shot clock. What should have been a foul, but was not called as such, led to a transition layup for the Zips to put the lead at 59-52 with under four minutes to go.

VonCameron Davis then scored four straight points to pull his guys back to within three. 

Following an Akron turnover with two minutes left, Julius Rollins made a layup and got fouled. He made the free throw, tying the game at 59-59.

After an offensive rebound, Ali Ali threw it to Freeman, who was fouled, but only made one free throw.

Over the next minute and change, the Flashes had to fight through horrendous officiating from the referees but were able to grab a 61-60 lead with under ten seconds.

However, the refs decided to take matters into their own hands by calling a 50-50 foul in the back court, giving Akron two free throws with 4.8 seconds remaining. Kent State’s Julius Rollins caught the arm of Akron’s Greg Tribble Junior but making a call of that magnitude in that situation with the ball over 50 feet from the hoop is not something that should be done.

Nonetheless, Tribble nailed them both to put the Zips up one. Kent State rushed down the court, but Sullinger’s shot didn’t fall, and Akron beat Kent for the third time this season.

Enrique Freeman won his second MAC tournament MVP award, his first coming in the 2022 tournament.

The Zips will head to March Madness for the second time in three seasons and could be a team that could create chaos. 

Kent State went on an amazing three-day run but came up one play short of going to March Madness. The Flashes played excellent defense all tournament, giving up an average of 60.33 points per game.

Though they did an amazing job of not allowing Akron’s offense to explode in the second half, there were lulls in Kent’s offense that did not allow them to extend leads when they needed to.

Kent State will have a lot to look forward to next season, returning four of five starters and will hopefully build momentum from this tournament run. 


Photo courtesy: Yasmeen Matthews

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