Kent State opens MAC title defense against Northern Illinois

Kent+State+senior+guard+Desmond+Ridenour+rises+to+block+an+attempt+by+Bowling+Greens+Justin+Turner+on+Feb.+24.+The+Flashes+won+on+last-second+free+throws%2C+64-63.+%5BFILE%5D

Kent State senior guard Desmond Ridenour rises to block an attempt by Bowling Green’s Justin Turner on Feb. 24. The Flashes won on last-second free throws, 64-63. [FILE]

Cameron Hoover

After falling two points short of a first-round bye in the Mid-American Conference tournament following a 67-65 loss to Akron, the No. 5 seed Kent State men’s basketball team is preparing to host No. 12 seed Northern Illinois Monday.

The Flashes had a rocky regular season, finishing 15-16 overall, including 9-9 in the MAC. It’s the first sub-.500 season during Rob Senderoff’s tenure as head coach.

Kent State is playing better basketball of late, though, winning three of its last five games, including home thrillers against Bowling Green and Miami (OH), in overtime.

Senderoff preached the same philosophy and winning mentality that he does before every game, regardless of opponent or the stakes.

“We’re going to have to play really, really hard,” Senderoff said. “That’s really what it comes down to. We just have to compete at a high level.”

Northern Illinois boasts a constant scoring threat in sophomore guard Eugene German, whose 20.9 points per game leads the conference.

“He’s incredibly fast with the basketball,” Senderoff said of German. “He’s fast in transition. He’s a guy that can make shots at all three levels, can get to rim, can pull up and make threes.”

The Huskies have been a model of inconsistency this season. Despite losing 12 conference games, they have beaten No. 1 seed Buffalo, No. 3 seed Eastern Michigan, No. 4 seed Ball State and No. 6 seed Western Michigan.

Northern Illinois also beat No. 5 seed Kent State in the two teams’ only other meeting this season. The game was the conference opener for both teams, and the Huskies won at home, 75-61, behind 25 points and 14 rebounds from Levi Bradley.

“I think both teams are a little bit different at this stage of the year,” Senderoff said. “We certainly watched the game in our preparations, and a lot of clips from that game were used. Some things that we need to sure up on in (Monday’s) game were things you could see in the first game. We didn’t do great in transition. We didn’t do a great job on the glass. Those are things we’re going to have to do a really good job of.”

Kent State is hoping to repeat history this week and win back-to-back conference championships, earning a spot in the NCAA tournament in the process.

The No. 5 seed Flashes look to start a deep postseason run at 7 p.m. Monday in the M.A.C. Center when they take on No. 12 seed Northern Illinois.

Cameron Hoover is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]