Akron dominated a battle of red-hot Northeast Ohio teams to claim the 2022 Mid-American Conference Tournament championship with a 75-55 victory over backyard rival Kent State Saturday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.
The fourth-seeded Zips (24-9) earned their eighth consecutive victory, snapped the Golden Flashes’ 14-game winning streak, and avenged a pair of regular season losses to Kent State (23-10). Akron knocked off No. 5 seed Buffalo, No. 1 seed Toledo and the second-seeded Flashes to claim their first MAC tourney crown since 2013.
Sophomore forward Enrique Freeman, the 2022 MAC Tournament MVP, led four Zips in double figures with 23 points (8-of-10 field goals) and also grabbed a team-high eight boards. Junior guard Xavier Castaneda finished with 15 points and five steals while playing suffocating defense on MAC Player of the Year Sincere Carry.
Sophomore wing Ali Ali produced 15 points and four assists, while freshman guard Garvin Clarke drained 3-of-5 3-pointers for 11 points.
Senior forward Justyn Hamilton led Kent State with 19 points (8-of-10 field goals) and eight rebounds. He was the lone KSU player in double figures. Carry finished with a season-low six points (2-of-11 field goals) and a season-high nine turnovers.
The Flashes were forced to play the first half without junior guard Malique Jacobs (7 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds), their leading scorer in the first two games of the MAC Tournament with 40 points. Jacobs was one of four players disciplined by the MAC for their roles in a video with a racial epithet, vulgar language and taunting that surfaced on social media.
Kent State jumped out to a 10-3 lead, and was up 13-6 on the strength of 11 early second-chance points. But those opportunities dried up, and the Zips began to settle in after Ali and Dawson drained 3-pointers.
A Clarke 3 put Akron up 23-20, then Castaneda gave Carry his seventh turnover and notched his fourth steal when he ripped the ball away at midcourt and hit a layup.
The Flashes only managed three points in the final 4:56, on Hamilton’s second 3-pointer of the season, as Akron pushed its lead out to 34-25 at the half.
Carry finished the first half with three points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field, with two assists compared to the seven giveaways. Meanwhile Ali scored nine points and hit 2-of-3 3s for the Zips, who were 5-of-11 from distance overall.
With Jacobs back in the lineup the Flashes started the second half on an 8-0 run. A Carry 3 with an assist from Jacobs cut Akron’s lead to 34-33 with 17:54 remaining.
But the Zips quickly regained control behind a pair of 3s from Clarke and another by Castaneda. Then an 11-0 spurt put Akron in complete command, up 56-39 with under eight minutes remaining after a layup by Freeman. The issue was never in doubt the rest of the way.
Akron will receive its seeding and opening matchup for the 2022 NCAA Tournament Sunday night at 6 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Akron beats Kent State in MAC tourney, headed to NCAA Tournament