The Kent State Golden Flashes took the crown as MAC champions with a 70-65 upset win over the top-ranked Akron Zips on Saturday. The Golden Flashes earned an automatic bid into the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
It is the second year in a row Akron lost as favorites to win the MAC Tournament.
One night after he hit the game-winning layup in an upset over No. 2 Ohio, Kent State’s Jaylin Walker put on a show, setting a new career-high with 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting. He led the Golden Flashes to their first NCAA Tournament appearance under head coach Rob Senderoff and the university’s first berth since the 2007-08 season.
The Golden Flashes held a three-point heavy Zips team to just 6-of-22 shooting from downtown while shooting 53 percent from the field against an Akron team that had no answers for its standout guard.
Kent State took command of the game with a 10-0 run in the second half. They held Akron scoreless from 9:00 to about the four-minute mark.
Akron came within five points with less than a minute to go in the second half, but Jimond Ivey’s costly and questionable foul reset the shot clock and forced the Golden Zips to foul on every ensuing possession.
Ivey made up for his mistake with a timely corner three-point shot to cut the deficit to four with just 14 seconds left. He marched down the floor and drilled another triple to bring the Zips within three.
But Jalen Avery, who was scoreless all night, made two free throws in the game’s waning seconds to extend Kent State’s lead to five and put the game out of reach for Akron.
Akron’s loss comes as a disappointment following head coach Keith Dambrot’s nod as MAC Coach of the Year. He led the Zips to a 26-7 record during the season, earning praise from four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James along the way. It was James who played a hand in helping his hometown university land some of the talented players on its roster.
Of those talented recruits, big man Isaiah Johnson torched Kent State for 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Ivey, despite his blunder of a foul, scored 18 points on seven-of-nine shooting, including back-to-back triples to cut the Golden Flash lead to three late in the game. And Josh Williams chimed in with 12 points off the bench.
But Jaylin Walker had help on his career night, too, with 19 points from Jimmy Hall. Walker shot a perfect six-of-six from the free throw line to help ice Akron’s late comeback attempt.
He will need to be equally as perfect if his Golden Flashes want to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.