CLEVELAND — The Akron Zips men's basketball team punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament Saturday night, beating rival Kent State 75-55 in the MAC Championship final to earn their first conference title since 2013.
Before the game even started, the Akron-Kent State rivalry had heated up, with four Kent State players being disciplined for a video posted to social media the night before.
Junior DJ Johnson was suspended indefinitely for the posting the video, while junior Malique Jacobs, freshman Cli'Ron Hornbeak, and freshman Julius Rollins were unable to play in the first half of Saturday night's MAC Championship final.
Once tip-off arrived, No. 2 Kent State took an early lead over No. 4 Akron, but the Zips quickly fought back and regained the lead, holding it through the first half. Kent State looked like they might close their deficit early in the second half, but things got away from them and Akron kept a comfortable lead throughout the remainder of the game.
Leading Akron in the MAC Championship final was sophomore Enrique Freeman who put up 23 points and eight rebounds in addition to two assists and two steals.
Sophomore Ali Ali and junior Xavier Castaneda each scored 15, with Ali adding four assists and a block and Castaneda notching five steals. Freshman Garvin Clarke added 11 points and shot 3-for-5 from three.
Akron's win marks their first MAC Championship title win since 2013, led there this year by head coach John Groce.
With the win over Kent State, Akron not only earns bragging rights against their rivals, but also earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.
The Zips will learn their seeding in the NCAA Tournament during the selection show on Sunday at 6 p.m.
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