CLEVELAND -- In athletics, sometimes the only way to learn things is the hard way.
And the Akron Zips learned another tough lesson, as for the second straight year, they came up on the losing end in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship Game, this time, dropping a 70-65 decision to the Kent State Golden Flashes at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland Saturday night.
“It's tough now, but I think overall we had a good season,” Akron guard Noah Robotham said. “Obviously, not the outcome that we wanted. I feel so bad for Big Dog (Isaiah Johnson) and Kwan (Cheatham), Carlitos (Anderson) and Mark (Noble), guys that just come in and compete every, single day.”
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.
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.
“It's been a good experience,” sophomore guard Josh Williams said. “Like Noah said, we had a good season. In my two years, I've had a good season, regular season MAC champions both years, and these last two years, we made it to the championship both times.
“We've come up short, but it's been a humbling experience. Everything's a learning block for what's coming next. Just got to get back to the drawing board, get ready for the next game that we have.”
Although the Zips did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and instead play in the National Invitational Tournament, the lessons in trying to get to “The Big Dance” will be something they carry with them in future games and seasons.
“I came in here as a 17-year old kid, and I'm 20 years old now, and those guys just taught me a lot on and off the court,” Robotham said. “Just tremendous. I mean I'm hurting really bad inside, but I mean, I got those guys to fall back on. I know those guys will keep me sane for at least the next couple days.
“It hurts right now, but I'm appreciative to be a part of this university. Being from Las Vegas, moving to Akron, I appreciate all the hospitality that I've received and I'm glad to be a Zip. It's a tough day, but we're a great institution, the great president, great coaching, great players, and we have a great support system. It hurts now, but I'm appreciative of the opportunity that I just had.”