The Kent State men's basketball team needed an assist midway through another heated contest with rival Akron Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center. Nick Dials' three first half 3-pointers had the Zips up by 10 and Kent State had already committed 12 turnovers at that point.
In order for the Flashes to avoid a fourth-straight loss to the Zips, an unlikely source had to make itself known. Make it 6,516 unlikely sources.
A deafening crowd—the first sellout of the season—coupled with a tenacious second half defense crippled Akron and propelled Kent State to a 75-69 win and sole possession of first place in the Mid-American Conference East Division.
"We couldn't really call anything, it was so darn loud in there," Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. "Everything turned into a broken play because it was so loud."
While the Zips' ears were ringing, the Flashes began to dominate the second half. With just under 12 minutes remaining Kent State senior forward Mike Scott drilled a 3-pointer to begin the Flashes' run. The Kent State defense then forced four turnovers, four steals and senior center Haminn Quaintance had two of his game-high five blocked shots.
"Coach (Jim Christian) made the statement that we wasn't guarding anybody," sophomore guard Chris Singletary said. "So we had to make the adjustments."
Nine minutes after Scott's shot, guard Rodriquez Sherman rattled the right side of the rim with a thunderous two-handed jam. The sophomore let out a primal scream and flexed his arms punctuating a 22-8 run and putting the sellout crowd into a complete frenzy.
"It is definitely great when the crowd is behind us," Scott said. "At times it was deafening in there. To know that they are behind you is great. It puts a little extra pep in your step."
Kent State appeared as if they were unstoppable as they fed off the crowd. Leading the balanced scoring attack was Scott and Singletary; both had 18 points. Junior guard Al Fisher had 16 points
Quaintance continued his dominance in MAC play. The senior recorded another double-double—his fourth in five conference games—with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
"In the second half I thought we were in a good rhythm offensively and I thought that was going to help us," Kent State coach Jim Christian said. "Guys had made shots but we were really making simple plays and I thought that as long we keep executing, once we got the lead things were going to be tough."
If it weren't for woeful free throw shooting down the stretch, Sherman's dunk with 3:31 left would have been the exclamation point. The Flashes hit only 12 of the crucial 18 free throws after the dunk allowing the Zips to hang around until the final buzzer.
An end of the game skirmish didn't seem to help the Flashes close out the game either. After Quaintance took exception to a foul by Akron guard Steve McNees in the final seconds, Akron forward Quade Milum joined the melee and pushed Quaintance.
All 10 players on the court rushed the corner of the court. Quaintance and Milum were both restrained. Milum was removed from the court area as fans began to pelt him with debris. Both Milum and Quaintance received technical fouls. No punches were thrown Kent State Athletic director Laing Kennedy said.
"This is two programs and two teams that have a great amount of respect for each other that really compete hard," Christian said. "The incident is obviously a by product of that and not indicative of either team."