CLEVELAND -- For the first time since 2008, the Kent State Golden Flashes are going to the NCAA Tournament.
Despite being the No. 6 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament and having to play four games over a six-day span, the Golden Flashes (22-13) fought through three one-score contests just to get to the MAC Championship Game, but they finished the job with an upset of the No. 1 seed, the Akron Zips, 70-65, at Quicken Loans Arena Saturday night.
Kent State and Akron face off in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game
Tournament Most Valuable Player Jaylin Walker led the way for the Golden Flashes (22-13) with a 30-point performance on 11-of-18 shooting, including a two-for-seven showing from three-point range and perfect six-for-six mark at the free-throw line.
Additionally, Kent State senior Jimmy Hall scored 19 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to go along with three assists and three blocked shots against the Zips (26-8).
On the strength of successful interior scoring, the Golden Flashes started the game on a 9-3 run, and Walker, the hero of Friday night’s semifinal against Ohio University, got Kent rolling when he converted both of his looks at the basket, including a three-pointer.
The score remained tight throughout the rest of the first half, which allowed Akron to take its first lead of the game, 22-21, when reserve guard Josh Williams buried a spot-up three-pointer from the left wing with 3:25 to play in the half.
That was the only lead Akron held in the first half, as Kent State closed on a 6-2 run and took a 27-24 advantage into intermission.
The Golden Flashes came out strong in the second half, making four of their first six looks from the field and pushing their lead out to 36-28 at the 15:57 mark.
Despite battling foul trouble for much of the game, guard Deon Edwin got the Golden Flashes rolling in the second half with a three-point play on the first possession. Over the next two minutes, Walker knocked down a pair of jumpers.
Then, Hall converted a 15-foot jumper along the right baseline, but the MAC regular-season champions were far from done.
Over the next five minutes of play, Akron withstood a pair of Kent State triples, one each from Walker and Edwin, and drew even with the Golden Flashes, 43-43, when center Isaiah Johnson knocked down a shot in the lane with 11:15 to play in the game.
On the next possession, Akron took its second lead of the game when Williams connected on another three-pointer, but Kent State went back in front for good on the ensuing trip down the floor when Hall converted a layup attempt.
Although Akron fought hard to get in front, Kent State rattled off a 10-0 run and built a 57-49 lead with less than five minutes to play.
Once again, Walker proved to be the catalyst for the Golden Flashes, as he scored six of the points on the run, including a fall-away floating jumper from the left side of the lane that rimed in and a tip-in off of a missed layup from guard Kevin Zabo.
Then, with the Zips again threatening, Kent State freshman Mitch Peterson buried his only three-pointer of the game that pushed the Golden Flashes’ lead back to nine points with 3:35 to play. Following Peterson’s triple, Kent State’s lead never dipped below three points for the remainder of the game.