Flashes taking it one game at a time in MAC Tournament

Kent+State+sophomore+guard+Jalen+Avery+shoots+a+three+point+field+goal+during+the+first+round+of+the+MAC+Mens+Basketball+Tournament+at+the+M.A.C.+Center+on+Monday%2C+March+6%2C+2017.+Kent+State+won+116-106+in+overtime.

Kent State sophomore guard Jalen Avery shoots a three point field goal during the first round of the MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament at the M.A.C. Center on Monday, March 6, 2017. Kent State won 116-106 in overtime.

Nick Buzzelli

After Kent State’s eight point road win at the State University at Buffalo, Eric Haut, associate coach, questioned why the Flashes couldn’t be in the running for one of the top four seeds heading into the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

In a postgame radio interview on WHLO, Haut told Ty Linder, the Kent State athletic program officer, that the Flashes  who were in the middle of an eventual five-game winning streak  shouldn’t be counted out just yet. 

“I say, ‘Why not us? Why not us?’” Haut said after Kent State’s 77-69 win over the Bulls Feb. 21. “If we just keep doing what we do, what we’ve been doing each game, we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

Though Kent State was unable to lock up an automatic bid in the tournament quarterfinals because of their loss to Akron in the final game of the regular season, the Flashes are still right where they want to be, facing Buffalo  a team they split the season series with — Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, for the chance to advance to the MAC Tournament semifinals.

Buffalo is led by All-MAC Second Team performer Blake Hamilton, who runs the wing position in coach Nate Oats’ balanced offense, which averages 78.5 points per game  good enough for fifth in the conference.

Sophomore guard CJ Massinburg, who shoots 33.6 percent from beyond the arc, is the team’s second leading scorer, averaging 14.4 points per game.

In the first meeting, the Bulls forced 19 total Kent State turnovers  12 of which came in the second half  and scored 21 points off of turnovers in an 82-69 win at the M.A.C. Center.

“We just got to come together as a team and figure out that we got to defend better. We got to get stops,” Jimmy Hall said following the Jan. 17 loss. “It starts with me because I’m a senior, so I’ll put it on me that I didn’t get the team (in gear).”

Since then, however, Kent State has limited its offensive miscues, lowered the amount of turnovers committed and ended the regular season by winning five of its last six.

In their last four games, the Flashes averaged 8.5 turnovers, well below the season mark of 13.3.

And against Central Michigan in the first round, a game in which point guard Jalen Avery scored 16 of his 24 points in overtime, Kent State committed just three turnovers while racking up 20 assists.

While playing the last game of the quarterfinals  with a likely 9 p.m. tipoff  may not seem ideal, for Coach Rob Senderoff the extra two hours of rest could be beneficial, especially considering his starting five logged 199 minutes Monday night.

“We’ll be fine. This time of year, we know Buffalo, they know us,” Senderoff said after the Flashes’ 116-106 first round win. “I guess it’s probably good when you play an overtime game to be able to get that extra two or three hours …”

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].