CLEVELAND - On a typical game day, Kent State coach Jim Christian gathers his players for a shootaround and to review some plays. With a championship at stake, he changed things up and held a meeting instead.
He talked to the Golden Flashes about playing with energy, about their intensity, about what it would take to beat Akron - again.
Right away, he knew they were listening.
"I could tell by the look in their eyes that they were ready to play," he said.
Haminn Quaintance scored 16 points, and Kent State crowned a dominant conference season by beating its bitter neighborhood rival Akron 74-55 in the Mid-American Conference tournament championship last night to reserve a slot in the NCAA brackets.
With their fifth tourney title and second in three years, the Golden Flashes left little doubt about their place in the MAC. They won the league's East title and had the player of the year, the top coach, and its best defensive player, Quaintance, who showed he can do it at the other end too and was chosen tournament MVP.
Win or lose, Kent State may have already been a lock for the NCAA tournament. But the Golden Flashes gave the selection committee nothing to do but find them a place to play next week.
"We didn't want to leave it in the hands of anybody else," senior forward Mike Scott said.
Scott scored 14 points with 13 rebounds, Chris Singletary scored 13, and Al Fisher 12 for Kent State.
For Akron, the NCAA tourney remains just out of reach. The Zips were beaten by Miami on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in last year's final and were hoping to erase that painful memory by making the 65-team field for the first time since 1986.
But an extended scoring drought at the end of the first half put Akron in a hole the Zips could never escape, and they lost their third straight game to Akron.
Senior Jeremiah Wood scored 13 points but missed several short shots underneath and made just five of 14 free throws for Akron. The Zips were only 18-of-33 from the line.
Kent State closed the first half with a 16-1 run to take a 33-20 lead.
Akron cut it to 51-41 with 8:20 left on a basket by Nate Linhart. But Scott scored on a baseline jumper and was intentionally fouled after a steal. He made both free throws, and Kent State got to keep the ball. Singletary then converted a three-point play, but was flattened after making the free throw by Linhart, who backed into the unsuspecting Kent State guard.