CLEVELAND -- Missed opportunities almost always come back to haunt a team in tournament play.
The Akron Zips had their opportunities, but struggles from three-point range and going away from their bread and butter with interior scoring contributed to a 70-65 loss to the Kent State Golden Flashes in the 2017 Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship at Quicken Loans Arena Saturday night.
“Clearly, Kent State had a better night than we did,” Zips coach Keith Dambrot said. “Hats off to them. Their guys played well. I thought our guys competed hard and I feel sick for our guys because they had a terrific season and that's just the reality of this league is if you have an average night when it really matters, the regular season kind of goes out the window.”
Kent State and Akron face off in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game
During the regular season, Akron posted a 24-7 record, including a 14-4 slate in MAC play, which marked the 12th straight season the Zips have won at least 21 games. Along with Akron, only Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and Ohio State had posted 11 straight 21-win seasons.
“I'm a big boy,” Dambrot said. “I can take it, but I really feel bad for all the work our guys put in because, you know, we just can't go to ‘The Big Dance,’ and it comes down to you can play great for 32 games or win the regular season, you just can't do it, so we bit the bullet. They made all the plays in the last eight minutes, we didn't, and just feel bad for our kids.”
Akron opened up MAC Tournament play in Cleveland with a 79-62 victory over the Eastern Michigan Eagles, but struggled through a 74-70 semifinal victory against the Ball State Cardinals to make their ninth appearance in the MAC Championship Game over the last 11 years.
However, for the fifth time, the Zips came up on the losing end in the final conference game of the season.
“Credit to Kent State,” Akron guard Noah Robotham said. “They made the plays. (Mitch) Peterson, I don't think he scored in the two games, and now, it's the third game and he has probably the biggest three of the night.
“And Jaylin Walker, we doubled down on Jimmy Hall and he hits a big three. I felt like those are the plays that we typically make and the opposing team typically misses, but they made the big shots, and sometimes, you've just got to tip your hat off to the other team.
“I think we just had blown assignments. Obviously, we know how dangerous (Walker) is as a guard to offensive rebound, and I think it was just a little bit of miscommunication. We know better than that, but I think there were just some blown coverages. Credit to him. He went in there and made the right plays at the right times.”