CLEVELAND -- Conference player of the year Justin Greene scored 20 points to lead top-seeded Kent State to a 79-68 semifinal win over Ball State on Friday night, moving the Golden Flashes into the Mid-American Conference final against archrival Akron.
Kent State (23-10) closed the game with a 14-5 run to put away the scrappy Cardinals (19-13), who were within 65-63 with 4:35 remaining.
Michael Porrini added 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Golden Flashes. Kent State will be making its 11th appearance in the title game and first since 2008, when it beat Akron.
Jarrod Jones scored 22 points with 11 rebounds for Ball State.
Akron and Kent State know each other better than perhaps any two schools in the conference. Their campuses are only 12 miles apart and each views the other with disdain. They split their two regular-season meetings this season, with Kent State winning the most recent matchup 79-68 on March 4.
Kent State will be making its eighth title game appearance in the past 13 years. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for coach Geno Ford, but he's got the Golden Flashes right back on top.
With Kent State clinging to a four-point lead and needing a stop on defense, Rodriquez Sherman, the team's only senior, came up with a big steal.
Correctly anticipating a Ball State pass, he stepped in and picked one off near midcourt. He tapped the ball ahead to himself, grabbed it and streaked in for a layup to give the Golden Flashes a 69-63 lead with 3:55 remaining.
Jesse Berry's basket got Ball State within four, and that's when Kent State decided to pound the ball down low to Greene, the 6-foot-8 junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. He was fouled and made two free throws, and after a Ball State miss, Sherman scored on a twisting layup to end Ball State's upset bid.
Kent State has now won 24 straight games over MAC West teams.
Berry added 14 points for the Cardinals, who rallied to beat defending champion Ohio in overtime in the quarterfinals.
Juwan Scaife's 3-pointer gave Ball State its first -- and only -- lead of the first half at 30-29.
But the Golden Flashes responded with a 15-5 burst during which they unloaded their full offensive arsenal on the Cardinals. Carlton Guyton drained a 3-pointer, Greene forced his way down low for two baskets and Porrini threaded a pass across the lane to a cutting Guyton, whose layup gave Kent State a nine-point lead.
Ball State didn't buckle, though, and Randy Davis hit a 3-pointer to help the Cardinals close within 48-43 at halftime.
Greene scored 14 and the Golden Flashes shot 60 percent in the first half.