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Jaylin Hunter (12) celebrates with teammate AJ Clayton (23) after the win at The Convo, in Athens, Feb. 27, 2024.

Men's Basketball: Ohio takes down No. 1 Akron behind 23-points from Jaylin Hunter

5,753 fans were on their feet when the buzzer sounded on Ohio’s (16-12, 10-5 Mid-American Conference) 74-67 victory against the MAC’s No. 1 ranked team, Akron (20-8,12-3 MAC). 

Coming into the game, Akron had lost only two games in the MAC all season. Led by MAC Player of the Year candidate Enrique Freeman, the Zips were shut down by the Bobcats. 

Despite having a potential all-American on the court in Freeman, Ohio’s Jaylin Hunter was the best player on The Convo floor Tuesday night. 

Hunter ended the game, leading all scorers with 23 points, 15 of which came in the second half. 

“We demand and expect a lot out of the guard position,” Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. “...He watches a lot of film with coach Barlow, he spends a lot of extra time shooting and it pays off.”

A key to the game for the Bobcats was limiting Freeman, and the team did just that. Freeman was held to seven rebounds, all defensive — the 6-foot 7-inch senior averages just under 13 rebounds per game. 

“They told me all week just get my body on him,” Ohio center AJ Clayton said. “Just try to back him out and don’t let him get his offensive rebounds.”

Freeman, the Zip's leading scorer, was held to just 4 points in the paint during the first half. It was a half-court heave at the end of the first half from Freeman that fell through the net at the buzzer, which gave him 7 first-half points and a 6-point halftime lead for Akron. 

Ohio’s 6-point deficit going into the locker room certainly took some life out of the crowd after an overall electrifying first half from the team. A field-goal drought of 3:41 to end the first half ultimately led to the halftime deficit. 

Coming out of the half, Ohio was slow to start. The team saw a deficit of as many as 10 points, and it seemed it was on its way to another loss against a team with a better record in the conference. That was until Hunter took over the game.  

Facing a 10-point deficit, Hunter scored 10 straight points all by himself to tie the game. The final shot of the run was a transition 3-pointer that put The Convo into a frenzy. 

“We’ve been talking about staying together when we’re down all year,” Hunter said. “Just to finally put that pen to paper for this game, it meant a lot to all of us.”

From the moment that Hunter tied the game, Ohio started having fun. A couple of plays later, Jaylin Hunter rushed the ball down the court, where he lobbed a pass to a cutting AJ Clayton, who lept and slammed home the score on a classic ally-oop to force an Akron timeout. 

“I know when I'm pointing up, he’s gonna throw it; I knew from half-court that he was going to throw it,” Clayton said in response to the big play. 

Down by 5 points with under four minutes to play, Akron wouldn’t go away quickly. By the two-minute mark, Akron had regained a 1-point lead. 

Following the Zips' basket to take the lead, the crowd may have lost some hope, but the team went on to make back-to-back game-winning plays in a sequence that put Ohio back in front. Hunter went down the court and was able to draw the foul; after making back-to-back free throws, Ohio had a 1-point lead. 

On the ensuing possession, Akron put the ball in the hands of its best player, Freeman. Before putting up a shot to take the lead, Clayton stripped the ball from the hands of Freeman and led the offense down the court, where Miles Brown would put in two more free throws, allowing Ohio to pull away and win the game. 

“We’re resilient,” Hunter said. “I think we’ve shown some resiliency throughout the year but with a team of that caliber that we have all the respect for, just to see our hard work pay off is really good.”

Hunter’s leadership and ability to put the team on his back was the main story, but Ohio still had four players with double-digit scoring figures. 

“We found a gritty way, a tough way, to win,” Boals said. “ ...Proud of our guys for keeping it together …Once we got that momentum and we carried it through, we hit some big-time shots and got some big-time stops down the end, just proud of our guys for the win.”

With a win against the MAC’s best team and March on the horizon, Ohio has proven that it has what it takes to win a MAC tournament next month. 


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