CLEVELAND (AP) — Jaylin Walker mistakenly thought Kent State was behind. That was his only error in the final seconds.
CLEVELAND (AP) — Jaylin Walker mistakenly thought Kent State was behind.
That was his only error in the final seconds.
Walker dropped an off-balance runner over two defenders with 4.1 seconds left, giving Kent State a 68-66 semifinal win over Ohio on Friday night and setting up a date with rival Akron in the championship of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
With the score tied 66-all, Walker grabbed the rebound of a missed free throw by Ohio and took off. He drove the length of the floor before pulling up in the lane and making his tough basket.
"We were only down one and my mindset was to go to the hole," Walker said before being told the game was tied.
"Oh, tied?" he said. "My mistake."
Kent State will forgive him.
Ohio had a last chance, but guard Jaaron Simmons dribble into traffic and the Bobcats were unable to get off a shot before the clock expired, sending the Golden Flashes into the final against their bitter neighbors.
Jimmy Hall scored 22 points — 14 in the second half — for the sixth-seeded Golden Flashes (21-13), who will meet the top-seeded Zips (26-7) on Saturday night for the title and the MAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Kent State and Akron split their regular-season matchups with the Golden Flashes ending the Zips' 30-game home winning streak on Feb. 17. Akron returned the favor by winning at Kent State by 10 last week.
"It's great for Northeast Ohio basketball and I know how many people are fans of one or the other," said Kent State coach Rob Senderoff. "My next-door neighbor is an Akron graduate. My across-the-street neighbors are Kent graduates. My daughter's best friend, her father is an Akron grad and wife is an Akron grad, so that's the rivalry. I know it's great for this event and for us and we're just happy to be a part of it."
Simmons scored 25 and Kenny Kaminski added 16 for the second-seeded Bobcats (20-11). Simmons could have given Ohio the lead with 10.8 seconds to go, but missed the second of two free throws, setting up Walker's heroics.
Walker was just 2 of 10 from the field before dropping a shot he won't soon forget.
Hall scored 24 in Kent State's quarterfinal win over two-time defending champion Buffalo, and the 6-foot-8 native of Brooklyn, New York, was Kent State's go-to guy throughout a back-and-forth second half.
But it was 3-pointers by Kevin Zabo and Jalen Avery that gave the Golden Flashes a 64-56 lead and had some Kent State fans making plans for a rematch with Akron, which won the regular-season finale between the schools.
Ohio, though, wasn't going down without a fight and Kaminski's 3-pointer from the corner pulled the Bobcats within 66-65 with 48 seconds left.
After Avery missed for Kent State, Simmons was fouled on a questionable bump. The junior guard made the first free throw, but missed the second and Walker took it from there, racing down court and sinking his shot despite some contact.
Ohio called timeout and appeared to have a play designed for a last-second 3, but Simmons lost track of time and space and the Bobcats' tourney ended without a final fling toward the rim.
Follow Tom Withers on Twitter @twithersAP