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March 13, 2011
CLEVELAND--In a game that was filled with emotion, nine lead changes and stingy defense, Akron defeated Kent State 66-65 in overtime to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament and receive its second berth to the NCAA Tournament in three years.
Kent State (23-11, 12-4 MAC), a team known for taking the game down to the last minute with pesky defense and great inside play, struggled to get MAC Player of the Year Justin Greene going. Greene finished the game with 13 points and 8 rebounds, but fouled out with 4:32 left to play in overtime.
Akron center Zeke Marshall played a key role in stopping Greene and the Flashes, who usually dominate the paint.
“Zeke did a great job,” said Kent State head coach Geno Ford. “Once you get blocked once you kind of go in there more tentative.”
Marshall, who finished the night with 9 blocks, was dominant in the low block and caused KSU to abandon dishing the ball inside.
“We weren’t scoring inside because they were blocking shots,” said Ford.
Akron almost had the game won and the momentum on their side with a six-point lead and 4:59 left, but Kent State did not go down easily.
A Greene lay-up and back-to-back threes by Randal Holt tied the score at 56 with 3:01 left in the game.
“We made some big plays. We were in a lot of trouble. [The] game was close to being over near the five minute mark and Randal banged two three’s back to back,” said coach Ford.
The Flashes continued to trade punches with Akron long enough to push the game into overtime. In the extra period, Akron’s senior leadership took control in the crucial moments to help them edge the Flashes by the slimmest of margins.
“They didn’t crack,” Ford said. “We didn’t show the poise that they did when they were down. They had a lot of guys who made a lot of veteran type shots.”
Akron forward Brett McKnight played lights out in the second half to assist Akron, but it was his foul shots at the end of the extended period that ended proved to be the difference.
“He shoots an air ball and then makes the two free throws to win the game. That takes toughness,” Ford said.
Following McKnight’s free throws, Kent State had the final shot with 12 seconds remaining.
“We (were) just trying to get a shot up,” Porrini said. “We weren’t able to, they defended well, kept us from penetrating. That’s it.”