CLEVELAND (AP)Miryne Thomas scored 24 points and Sincere Carry added 21 as Kent State beat rival Akron 79-73 in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament Friday night to set up a matchup against top-seeded Toledo.
The second-seeded Golden Flashes (27-6) are back in the title game for the second year in row. They haven’t won the championship since 2017. On Saturday, they’ll take on the Rockets (27-6), who have won 17 straight and are trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.
Toledo beat Ohio 82-75 in the first semifinal. Kent State topped Toledo 75-63 during the regular season.
Enrique Freeman scored 24 with 18 rebounds and Xavier Castaneda scored 21 to lead the defending champion Zips (22-11), who gave up consecutive 3-pointers to Thomas and Jalen Sullinger as Kent State opened an 18-point lead midway through the second half.
The Zips kept fighting and got within six in the final minute, but Castaneda missed a pair of 3-pointers – he finished just 2 of 11 on 3s – and Kent State put it away at the free-throw line.
The Golden Flashes didn’t score a field goal over the final 8:30, getting their final 13 points on free throws.
It was the third meeting this season between the neighboring Northeast Ohio schools, whose campuses are just 11 miles apart. Kent State beat Akron 89-83 in overtime last week to close the regular season.
There was the customary intensity between players on the floor and the trash talk amongst fans carried into the hallways inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Akron beat Kent State in last year’s final after four Golden Flashes players were suspended for posting a profane video on social media following their semifinal win.
Sullinger dropped a 3-pointer and Kent State ripped off 10 straight points in the first half to open a 34-19 lead over the Zips, who were reeling.
But Akron responded by going inside to Freeman, who scored six points in a 13-0 tear that helped the Zips get within 38-34 at halftime.
Freeman finished the first half with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
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