Akron 61, Kent State 54
CLEVELAND (AP)—Jeremiah Wood scored a season-high 19 points and Akron moved into its first Mid-American Conference tournament championship by overpowering rival Kent State in the second half for a 61-54 semifinal win on Friday night.
Down by 14 points at halftime and their historic season on the ropes, the Zips (26-6) used a 14-0 run to earn a spot in the title game against Miami of Ohio, which stunned top-seeded Toldeo 58-53 in the first semifinal.
Akron and Miami split their two regular-season meetings—both were decided by two points, one in overtime.
Wood, Akron’s muscular junior forward, scored 13 points after halftime when the Zips outscored the Golden Flashes (21-11) 42-21 and held Kent State to 6-of-26 shooting.
Nick Dials added 12 points and Dru Joyce 11 for Akron, which got just 10 points and one field goal from Romeo Travis, the MAC’s player of the year.
But as Travis said following the team’s quarterfinal win over Western Michigan, the Zips “are a team” and this win underscored that more than any other this season.
The win helped Akron set a new school record for victories in a season, enhanced the Zips’ NCAA resume and was their second win in six days against Kent State.
Mike Scott scored 16 points, Omni Smith 11 and freshman Chris Singletary 10 for the defending tournament champion Golden Flashes.
Trailing 33-19 at halftime, the Zips, who lost to Toledo in their first trip to the semifinals a year ago, began chipping away.
They opened the second half with a 9-1 run and were within 38-35 on Joyce’s 3-pointer with 12:59 to go.
After a basket by Singletary, who didn’t score in Kent State’s overtime loss to Akron on Sunday, the Zips scored 12 straight points with a 3-pointer from Dials in the corner making it 47-40 with 8:54 remaining.
Akron then made its free throws down the stretch to complete a three-game sweep of Kent State this season.
From the opening tip it was typical Akron-Kent State: intense and physical— on the court and in the stands.
Fans from both schools, which are located only a 10-minute drive apart, made derogatory chants about the other and almost every seat in the lower bowl of Quicken Loans Arena was filled with someone cheering for the Golden Flashes or Zips.
The teams traded baskets for the first 13 minutes before Kent State went on a 14-2 spurt, highlighted by a long 3-pointer from senior Armon Gates—the 200th of his career—that gave the Golden Flashes a 31-19 lead.