Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Rematch a Mismatch!"

Well, in case you didn't hear, yes, Kent State was able to not only win the MAC tournament title this year, but sweep Akron in three straight in the process. I attended the MAC tournament championship game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and even I was surprised just how big a margin of victory Kent State won by. After winning 75-69 in Kent in January and then surviving that near-collapse with a 61-58 win March 9 in Akron, I expected a close game if not an Akron win. A lot of the Akron players and fans expected Akron to win as well, mostly because Akron had a lot more to play for. The thought, at least, was that since Kent State was virtually guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament and Akron needed to win the MAC tournament to get in that Kent would just not play as hard, blah blah blah. Well, Kent came to play and Akron did not. I admit, I was worried given the recent close games and the fact that Kent barely beat Miami (Ohio) in a very physical game last night 49-47, while Akron had little trouble beating #2 seed Western Michigan, a team that had beaten the Zips by 20 when they played during the regular season. I would find I had little to worry about. Akron only led briefly during the first half, but only by four at the most (13-9) as they got some three-pointers to fall. Kent ended the first half on a 16-1 run to go up 33-20 at the half. Akron was never closer than ten the entire rest of the game. I was happily stunned by the outcome. Sure, winning the MAC tournament is always fun and now we get to play in the NCAA tournament, but beating Akron in the process makes it even sweeter, not to mention we returned the favor of winning all three games against them this year. They did that to us last year.

This was my first trip to Quicken Loans Arena ("the Q", formerly known as Gund Arena) since the 2004 MAC tournament championship game when Kent State lost to Western Michigan. The Q looks even better than I remember as it now has a better scoreboard (though it took some getting used to in reading it) and really nice seats. All of the seats at the Q are cushioned and actually pretty comfortable. They're also that wine color now instead of the old "Cavalier blue" (a shade of bright blue used in the Cavs' old logo) they were when the building opened in 1994. I've only been in a few NBA arenas, so I can't really compare it to the others. The only other arenas I've been in are the old Richfield Coliseum (which the Q replaced) and Salt Lake City's Energy Solutions Arena (formerly the Delta Center). I can definitely say the Q is WAY nicer than the Energy Solutions Arena, that's for sure! Energy Solutions Arena isn't bad; the Q is just way nicer and it's a much more interesting building, plus almost all the seats in the Energy Solutions Arena aren't cushioned; they're just plastic. Anyway, I enjoyed my visit to the Q tonight, though it would've been more fun if I had had someone to go with. I seriously need a sports-minded friend who actually lives nearby!

I was a little disappointed in the size of the crowd. The listed attendance was just short of 13,000, which isn't that bad considering a sellout at KSU is 6,327 and 5,500 at Akron, but I always figured that a Kent State vs. Akron championship game would draw close to a sellout at the Q (which holds 20,520). Not even close as the third level of seating was curtained off. The game didn't even set the MAC record for attendance, which is over 14,000 at the 2002 championship when Kent State beat Bowling Green. I got to the game an hour early because I thought it might sell out. Oh well. I'd say the crowd itself was about 50-50 or maybe a slight majority of Kent State fans, at least from my vantage point and looking around when each team scored. If we did have a majority, it wasn't by very much.

I ended up sitting in one of the unofficial KSU student sections, in the middle level in the corner. They weren't bad seats at all, except the bulky shot clock blocks a little bit of the view. I wish the MAC would have the students sit in the end zone sections, especially in a game featuring local rivals like this where both schools could easily bring large student sections. Sadly, I doubt such a thing will happen as the ticket prices prove that the tournament isn't about the students, it's about the money. There were some fun signs from the section and thankfully someone got pictures of them and posted them on Facebook. The best one was the "Fea the oo" sign, which was mocking the "WE DON'T THOW STUFF" sign from the March 9th game. I still can't believe that first sign was even made. I can understand typing mistakes, but a spelling mistake on a huge painted sign? Must've been done in a huge hurry is all I can imagine...glad it wasn't me. I had enough problems going to Cleveland feeling stupid after I missed the parking garage ticket machine and had to get out of my car and walk up to it (usually downtown for games you just pay upfront, so that's what I expected), and then when I bought my ticket I had the hardest time figuring out where to sign the receipt because it was under my thumb. The lady at the ticket counter was very nice and showed me. I felt like quite the idiot...oh well, you know...Kent read, Kent right, Kent State!

Speaking of Kent State, though, I got home last evening after the game to find the official paperwork welcoming me into the Master of Arts in Teaching program, so it's now official: I will be a grad student at Kent this summer. I just need to fill out some more paperwork and send it back, basically showing that I accept. Most of what came was stuff to help me get familiarized with Kent State (instructions on registration, campus map, etc.) so I'm ahead of the game there! I will start classes sometime in June.

Now, though, it's Spring Break, so I'm off to the Washington, DC area with my sister Katie to visit my brother Andy, sister-in-law Heather, and some friends and just to get out of town for a few days!

Notes on pictures: 1. Top half of the sports page of the local Record-Courier here in Kent for Sunday; 2. Me at Quicken Loans Arena just before the start of the second half; 3. Picture of two of the signs from the KSU students "Fea the oo" and "Hey Akron, "throw" has an "R" in it!". I was sitting just in front of this, just out of the bottom left corner of the picture; 4. The final seconds tick off the clock of Kent State's 74-55 win!

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