Late mistake by Kent State allows Akron to pull out 62-61 win for MAC title, NCAA Tournament bid

CLEVELAND (AP) — Seconds from a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament trip, Kent State's Julius Rollins made a mistake magnified by March.

Madness.

Greg Tribble made two free throws with 4.8 seconds left after he was inexplicably fouled by Rollins, giving Akron a 62-61 win over its bitter rival in the Mid-American Conference championship to earn the league's NCAA bid on Saturday night.

“What a horrible, tough way to lose,” said Kent State coach Rob Senderoff, who covered his face in disbelief on the sideline following his player's ill-fated gaffe. “I feel really, really, badly for our roster with how we lost.”

The second-seeded Zips (24-10) won their fifth MAC title and second in three years. Making it sweeter is that they did it against the Golden Flashes (17-17), the No. 8 seed who knocked off top-seeded Toledo in the quarterfinals.

Kent State, which lost both regular-season matchups to Akron, was in position to pull off another stunner when Cli'Ron Hornbeak tipped in a miss by Jalen Sullinger to give the Golden Flashes a 61-60 lead with 6.2 seconds to go.

The Zips quickly inbounded the ball to Tribble and he took off racing up the floor when he got grabbed on the right arm by Rollins, who apparently lost track of the score and thought the Golden Flashes were still trailing.

“He probably thought we were down one instead of up one,” Senderoff said without going into many details.

Tribble then dropped both free throws and Akron held on when Sullinger, who scored 19 points, missed a runner in the final second. When the horn sounded, several Kent State players dropped down on the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse court in dismay.

Tribble said Rollins' foul stunned him.

“I was really surprised when he intentionally fouled me,” Tribble said. “It ended up working out for us. It was surprising, but it was like free points. I’ll take them.”

Rollins was angry and nearly inconsolable on the bench as his teammates tried to calm him down.

“As I told the team, I should have called the timeout there,” Senderoff said. “I do not blame Julius. There’s 100 plays in the game and that was just one of them. The thing that I told him, if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you when you’re 50 years old like I am, you’ve had a pretty charmed life.

"Tomorrow the sun will come up., It will be a little cloudy for me and our guys.”"

Ali Ali scored 18 points and Enrique Freeman, the MAC's player of the year, added 17 and nine rebounds for the Zips. Freeman was named the tournament's most outstanding player.

VonCameron Davis scored 21 to lead the Golden Flashes.

This was the fifth meeting between Akron and Kent State in the MAC title game and second in three years. Somehow, they always seem to collide in March.

There is no love lost between Akron and Kent State, longtime rivals in football, basketball and every other sport. The campuses are roughly just 12 miles apart and their passionate fan bases — sometimes dividing families and neighborhoods — are in constant conflict.

Amazingly, the series was tied 82-82 entering the title game.

Kent State's zone defense was effective in the first half as it limited Freeman's touches and forced the Zips to play with patience — something they struggle to do.

With Akron's offense lacking any rhythm, the Golden Flashes opened a 24-18 lead before Ali made a 3-pointer and was fouled making another one, and his 4-point play capped a 16-2 run to put the Zips up 34-29 at half.

BIG PICTURE

Akron: The Zips now wait to see their spot in the NCAA brackets. Freeman has been one of the nation's steadiest players all season, recording 30 double-doubles. He's a former walk-on who has grown into one of the MAC's best players in recent memory.

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