Zips lose to Kent in thriller

” KENT: The University of Akron men’s basketball team fell to the Kent State Golden Flashes 67-63 at KSU’s M.A.C. Center in front of 5,327 fans. The loss dropped UA (19-12, 10-6 MAC) into a tie with the Miami RedHawks for second place in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division standings and positioned them as the fifth seed in this week’s MAC Tournament.”

KENT: The University of Akron men’s basketball team fell to the Kent State Golden Flashes 67-63 at KSU’s M.A.C. Center in front of 5,327 fans.

The loss dropped UA (19-12, 10-6 MAC) into a tie with the Miami RedHawks for second place in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division standings and positioned them as the fifth seed in this week’s MAC Tournament.

The Zips will face the 12th-seeded Toledo Rockets tonight at 6 p.m. in the tournament’s first round.

UA led KSU (18-13, 10-6 MAC) until the Golden Flashes went on a run about eight minutes into the second half to come back from as much as a seven-point deficit earlier in the half to create a back-and-forth game the rest of the way.

The Golden Flashes took their first lead at 46-45 on a jumper by senior guard Al Fisher with 11:26 left in the game.

The Zips would regain the lead and take a 58-53 advantage with 5:22 left in the game on back-to-back 3-pointers by senior forward Nate Linhart and sophomore forward Brett McKnight, but KSU would rally one again.

After freshman guard Anthony Humpty Hitchens missed a free throw with UA up 62-60 with 1:07 left in the game, KSU got the rebound, pushed the ball up the floor and found junior guard Mike McKee for an uncontested 3-pointer. The Zips would never regain the lead.

It’s kind of the story of our season, Linhart said of the team’s inability to secure the victory. We’ve had our struggles, that’s for sure.

We just have to learn how to make plays when it matters, UA head coach Keith Dambrot said. I feel badly because our guys put ourselves in a position to win, and then we kind of handed it off when it mattered.

Tensions flared in the heated rivalry before the game’s first points were even scored. KSU junior guard Chris Singletary was called for a flagrant personal foul with 18:52 left in the first half, after hitting Linhart in the stomach while the UA senior passed the ball while driving along the baseline.

Absolutely, Linhart responded when asked if he considered the move a punch. The refs saw what they saw on TV to make the necessary call and throw him out, so I don’t feel I need to defend myself in calling it a punch.

Dambrot said it’s unfortunate that a player of Singletary’s caliber was forced to sit out the majority of the rivalry game, but said Singletary needs to learn to control his actions because he’s seen him do it before on film.

He’s done it on numerous occasions, UA’s fifth-year head coach said. I’ve seen it on tape 10 or 15 times. He got caught this time.

The Golden Flashes were able to stay in the game in the first half despite poor shooting from Fisher and Tyree Evans, by out-rebounding the Zips 25-16, and getting seven points and eight rebounds from senior forward Julian Sullinger before halftime.

First half, Julian gave us a chance to win, KSU head coach Geno Ford said. Julian doesn’t play like that (and) we’re done, it’s already over. He was the one guy that kept us in it.

KSU’s comeback was made possible by its dominance on the offensive and defensive glass.

UA was outscored 28-12 in the paint and gave up 23 second-chance points in the game.

The Golden Flashes were paced offensively by Fisher’s game-high 18 points. McKnight lead the Zips with 14 points.

Dambrot said his team has bounced back well when faced with adversity throughout the season and expects it to do the same this week.

We’ve been hit in the mouth about 55 times this year, he said. For some reason, our guys have been able to rally themselves.

Tip-off between the Rockets and Zips is set for 6 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena.