I missed last night's MAC Tournament games, but just watched Akron-Kent to scout the Zips, who advanced to tonight's semifinal against UB with a 53-51 win.
I hoped to draw some conclusions about how Akron is playing right now, since UB is not getting a midseason Zips team on a couple days' rest or a team newly getting accustomed to the loss of Noah Robotham. Regardless of folks on Twitter saying it won't matter, fatigue will matter and Akron will play differently than they would midseason.
Here's what I knew before tuning in:
- It was a SLOW game, with roughly only 53 possessions
- Akron won despite struggling from three from the first time in a week, hitting just 5 of 24
- Most folks on Twitter and in Zips-friendly parts of the internet praised the Akron defense in the second half after the Zips trailed by eight at the break.
- Kent held a 39-31 rebounding advantage.
- This one demanded a comeback and then ten one-possession minutes. I thought Akron looked tired even against WMU but used timely threes late to quickly turn a one-point lead into a late-game coast. WMU was a game for 30 minutes, and this one seems to have been for all 40.
Breaking the game down by media timeouts:
U16: Akron leads 5-4
Akron got their points about how you'd expect: on a three and a nice layup on a low-post isolation. The Zips are already a slower team, but did a good job early of taking shots that were available rather than working down the clock.
U12: Akron leads 10-9
Akron did a great job in this stretch of working through Kent's zone defense, which seemed tentative and rarely brought help all night. At one point I thought Forsythe got bailed out by a foul call, but he made a few good plays. Two shots - a three from McAdams and a close lay-in from Isaiah Johnson, fell off the front of the rim.
U8: Akron trails 15-12
Three missed shots from distance for Akron here, and Kent started to move more, not only on offense and in transition, but on defense as they showed a bit of a man-to-man look.
U4: Akron trails 23-12
Right here it looked like Kent was ready to break it open. Akron went nearly four mintues without any points or offensive boards, and Kent really picked it up, pretty much giving away any shot offensive rebounds to get back on defense. It worked, especially as quicker ball movement led to better shots for the Flashes.
Half: Akron trails 27-19
The Zips had a bit of a run here, but it didn't feel like a big shift. The Zips missed two shots - a Kretzer three and a Jackson layup - well short, but did get another three that was banked in off the glass and looked all arms to me.
In the final minute Kent worked harder for offensive boards and you got a picture of how much they were focusing on defense: In two possessions the Golden Flashes pulled down four offensive rebounds to take an eight-point lead into the break.
Obviously I knew Akron would win here, but at this point I was thinking there's got to be a big change. The Zips were getting ok looks so far, but just missing all their threes and a few gimmes from inside. Given the slow pace and how much they abandoned the offensive glass, an eight-point lead for Kent seemed about right.
U16: Akron trails 29-22
Kent picked up three quick fouls - Spicer's third and two quickies for Hall - in the early going, but it was also apparent that they completely changed their offensive strategies: all but one possession in this stretch was one or two passes with little movement and a missed shot.
U12: Akron trails 36-32
The momentum really shifted here, on a trio of strong drives to the bucket from Deji Ibitayo and Antino Jackson. Kent continued to rush everything offensively. Jackson was really the star of this stretch, with eight points on a pair of drives, an old-fashioned three-point play, and a made three from straight on that was probably the purest shot from distance on the night. McAdams took a three shortly after but was way, way off.
I can't really emphasize how strange Kent's offensive decisionmaking was: they found great success and easy shots when they got Akron moving, but only did it twice on a half-dozen possessions.
U8: Akron tied 41-41
Pretty similar stretch here: Jackson and Ibitayo kept things working offensively, while Kent took several shots from outside but easily drew a foul when they worked it in.
U4: Akron trails 45-44
Jackson and Ibitayo head to the bench for a breather, and Pat Forsythe does work for a few minutes, though he also committed two fouls while out of position for whatever reason. Kent didn't pull back ahead because they changed their tack, but because they hit their shots after pretty much standing still for a few seconds.
Last minute: Akron trails 51-50
Each team scored six points on their next three possessions: Kent looked better and Akron got a tough three from McAdams, just their fourth.
Final: Akron wins 53-51
The question here is how did Kent get two possessions and no points? Happily it's not by making the same mistakes of the last twelve minutes, but it seems they just got jumpy. Out of a timeout, Pat Forsythe was able to gets his hands in a bobbled pass and forced shot clock violation.
Then, down one, the Flashes went to what had been working: Sending Kris Brewer to drive to the time, the #4 seed got two golden opportunities in a layup that tantalizingly sat on the rim and an open look that rattled out. On their last possession, rushed with under 15 seconds to play, the ball got knocked loose and the Flashes couldn't get a shot off in time, though the shot they did get fell in.
All credit to Akron, who played a tough game and fought back. Their solid, smart help defense made things tough for Kent State in the second half, though I think Akron's offense getting a spark from Ibitayo and Jackson played a bigger role (Kent scored 24 and 27 in their halves, while Akron 19 and 34).
But that said, I think Kent made it easy for Akron at the defensive end of the floor. The Flashes owned the game for an eight minute stretch in the first half and then abandoned how they got there. For 15 minutes in the second, the ball rarely entered the paint, and when it did it took too long to move it, giving Akron plenty of time to rotate defensive help.
Kent still won the boards by a noticeable margin despite giving away offensive rebounds for most of the first half.
Looking ahead to tonight: UB will want to work the ball with pace and crash the boards. The transition game will be there, but going one-and-done and letting the Zips take the air out of the ball could be costly. Ibitayo, Johnson, and Jackson looked to be the most energetic last night, while Forsythe had spurts.
But I don't think 5-24 was a result of bad looks or an off night; a number of Zips were consistently flat and off the front of the rim on their three-point attempts. I know Akron Twitter is out there talking big about my "Fatigue Factor" phraseology, but it was a clear issue against Kent, and the Golden Flashes simply didn't take it to the Zips.
We'll see how it all shakes out tonight. Go Bulls.