Saturday, March 6, 2010


It's always nice to win a rivalry game, but it's even sweeter when the game means something more than bragging rights. Such was the case once again between Kent State and Akron, who played last night in Akron in front of an ESPN2 national audience to decide the Mid-American Conference regular season champion as well as the MAC East division champion and #1 seed to the upcoming conference tournament. Both teams were 22-8 overall and 12-3 in the MAC, far better than any other team (next best records were Buffalo, Miami, and Central Michigan all at 9-7). Going into this game, I fully expected something similar to the game two years ago when Kent had to hold off a furious Akron rally to win on an Al Fisher three-pointer with just a few seconds left. Even after Kent State's surprisingly easy 87-70 win over Akron this past January, I didn't expect a repeat of that at the JAR (James A. Rhodes Arena), where Akron was 77-11 over the past few years and had planned a "whiteout". Well, turns out it WAS a repeat of that game in January as Kent State rolled to a 74-61 win over Akron in a game even Akron coach Keith Dambrot said wasn't as close as the score. Deep down I thought it was possible again, but didn't want to say it, mostly because I thought it was just wishful thinking and have been dead wrong about such things before! After Kent's win in January, many Akron fans posted comments online to the effect of "well just wait till we get them at our place in March" and "the home team always wins in this series." My comment back was basically if the problems that led to Akron's loss weren't addressed in the second meeting, the result really wouldn't be much different no matter where it was played. Turns out I was right as the game had pretty much the same script as far as Kent shooting the ball well, getting inside, solid defense, and out-rebounding the Zips. Other than the initial energy burst to start the game, Kent was in control throughout. Akron opened an 11-5 lead and would never lead again. Kent led by 19 midway through the second half and Akron never got closer than 12 the rest of the way. And I must say, clearly hearing "WE ARE...KENT STATE" on TV live from the JAR was pretty awesome!

What's amazing to me is that this is Kent's 4th MAC regular season title and all have happened in the last 10 years ('02, '06, '08, '10). Basketball is one of the oldest sports at Kent State (first game in 1913, first intercollegiate game in 1915), yet only since 1999 have they done much of anything. When they won 19 games last year it was regarded as a huge letdown; people complain when we have crowds under 4,000. I remember growing up seeing maybe a few people sitting in the balcony sections at the MAC Center and having crowds that didn't even top 2,000. There was a time prior to 1999 when the Kent State women's basketball team (which was regularly in the MAC title hunt during the 1990s and early 2000s) was drawing almost as many fans as the men. It was also during that time that MAC tournament play meant one-and-done for KSU and time to think about Spring sports. Even more impressive is that Kent State has been able to maintain the success despite going through 4 different head coaches in that time; not because of firings but because of wealthier programs coming in and hiring KSU coaches!

Well, now it's on to the MAC Tournament in Cleveland. Kent State opens play against Ohio or Ball State on Thursday March 11. There is already talk of a rematch in the MAC Tournament Championship game, but first both teams have to win their respective games. Kent State and Akron have played three times previously in the MAC tournament: Kent won an opening round game in Akron in 1998, Akron won in Cleveland in the semifinals in 2007, and Kent won in Cleveland in the MAC championship game in 2008 (which I attended). The 1998 game is significant in relation to this because prior to that meeting, Akron had beaten Kent twice easily by over 20 points at Kent (their first win in Kent since the 1960s) and at Akron. Everyone expected another Akron blowout since the game was at Akron (Akron's first time ever in the MAC tournament), but Kent pulled the stunner 95-88, which at the time ended a 9-game losing streak for Kent in the MAC tournament. The next year KSU won the tournament for the first time ever. While I'm sure Akron fans would love to see the same thing happen here -- and there certainly is a possibility -- the biggest difference is that in 1998, Akron was making their first appearance EVER in the MAC tournament; this will hardly be Kent's first appearance in the tournament or even the championship game should they get there. In the other 2 meetings, both were also the 3rd meeting of the year, but resulted in 3 game sweeps for each team. But hey, that's why they play the games! And, should Kent State get there, I will make the short trip to Cleveland to cheer them on. Go Kent!

Picture credits: The first picture is from the Record-Courier article "Beatdown for Banner" from the March 5th issue. This was the featured picture in the print edition sports section as well. I liked it not only because of the dramatic angle, but also the two people in yellow in the background sticking out like a sore thumb. I'm still not a fan of Kent State's black uniforms though. The second picture comes from the Flickr photostream of Kate Sheets, a KSU alum who is now a law student at the University of Akron. I liked the view of the whole arena with so you can see the whiteout and where the Kent fans fit in. Very cool view!

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