Akron 66, Kent State 64, OT
KENT, Ohio (AP)—Jeremiah Wood’s layup with 1.5 seconds left in overtime gave Akron a 66-64 win over Kent State and the Mid-American Conference East title on Sunday night before a raucous crowd that included Cavaliers star LeBron James.
Wood, who finished with 17 points, grabbed a strong pass from Nick Dials underneath and rolled in his shot as the Zips (24-6, 13-3) bounced off their bench in celebration.
But the party nearly crashed quickly when Kent State’s Omni Smith threw up a 65-foot heave that grazed the net as the horn sounded.
Cedrick Middleton added 17 points and Dials 14 for Akron, which won its first division crown since 1998 and clinched the No. 2 seed in next week’s MAC tournament in Cleveland. The victory gave the Zips their most wins since going to Division I in 1980-81 and enhanced their NCAA tournament resume in case they don’t win the MAC tourney title.
Smith had 16 points and Mike Scott added 15 and 12 rebounds to lead the Golden Flashes (20-10, 12-4), who shot a season-worst 35 percent from the floor.
A dunk by Kent’s Haminn Quaintance brought the Golden Flashes, who overcame a 10-point deficit to force OT, within 62-61 with 22.5 seconds left. After Dials made two free throws to put Akron up by 64-61, senior Armon Gates drained a 3-pointer with 10.4 seconds left to tie it.
Dials rushed the ball up the floor, drove the right side and whipped his pass in the lane to Smith for the game-winner.
Akron led its hated rival almost from the outset and took a 46-36 lead when Dru Joyce, James’ high school teammate and best friend, drained a 3-pointer with 6:42 left. But the Golden Flashes, urged on by a home crowd that never gave up, ran off 11 straight points to take a 47-46 lead on Sullinger’s basket with 3:44 left.
The Zips went back up by five when Dials hit an off-balance layup despite Akron coach Keith Dambrot’s pleas to slow it down.
Scott then hit a layup, and after fouling out Joyce on a drive, Smith dropped a free throw to make it 52-50. He missed the second but Akron’s Nate Linhart was called for a travel and Scott tipped in a miss with 10.4 seconds left to tie it 52-all.
Akron had one last chance in regulation, but Middleton’s layup was blocked by Quaintance with one second left.
James arrived early in the first half and as he walked toward his seat, the NBA superstar was stopped by a Kent State police officer who awkwardly asked to see his tickets. James had barely sat down when he got Joyce’s attention and began coaching his good friend from the stands.
As it turned out, the Zips didn’t need much help early on.
Kent State started cold from the floor and stayed that way, shooting just 18 percent from the field in the first half.
However, they were only down by 10 points after playing their worst half of ball this season.
Scott led the Golden Flashes with seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, but the rest of Kent State’s lineup was 3-for-28.