Revitalized men’s basketball team heads to Michigan

Junior guard Derek Jackson defends the ball from Akron University Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. The Flashes beat the Zips 60-57, with a three point shot scored in the final seconds of the game.

Junior guard Derek Jackson defends the ball from Akron University Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. The Flashes beat the Zips 60-57, with a three point shot scored in the final seconds of the game.

Richie Mulhall

Fresh off its 60-57 victory against Akron Saturday night, the Kent State men’s basketball team is feeling more focused than ever — at least since the beginning of the season when the team started off 9-2.

The Flashes (12-9, 3-5 Mid-American Conference) put on a phenomenal show for Kent State fans inside the M.A.C. Center Saturday night when they narrowly defeated Akron after senior forward Darren Goodson launched a long three-pointer from 28 feet out off the glass with only one second remaining.

Since the Akron victory, Goodson’s heroic shot at the end of the game has been regarded by many as the spark the team needed to turn its season around — a catalyst for success and the start of good things to come.

“We said February was going to be the start of the new season,” junior guard Kris Brewer said after Saturday night’s game. “We told each that we’re 1-0 right now, and we’re just going to feed off that.”

Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff said in the post-game press conference that the team wiped the slate clean starting with February. He said the team has put its previous losses in the past and is looking toward a brighter future for Kent State basketball.

In this game, teams must have a short memory to move on and start the season anew when a season’s outlook appears bleaker and bleaker with each consecutive loss.

Kent State took the blank slate approach to their season and chose to start from scratch beginning with February.

“We have a new mindset,” senior leader and forward Mark Henniger said about the team’s new attitude. “We’re looking at the season like it’s a new season. The start of [the Akron game], we said we we’re 0-0, so we were electrified. We came together and knew we had to turn the season around.”

Now “1-0” in the more symbolic sense of the record, the men’s basketball team is following Senderoff’s new philosophy and feels ready to take its new-found confidence on the road this week as the Flashes travel to Mount Pleasant, Mich. Wednesday to face Central Michigan (7-13, 0-8 MAC) and then head south to Ypsilanti for another conference matchup against Eastern Michigan (12-9, 4-4 MAC) Saturday.

Senderoff said even though the team was fired up for the Akron game, he hopes that everyone will be able to keep that fire ablaze on the road in front of thousands of screaming cheering this time, not for them.

“It’s not hard to get up for your rival; It’s not hard to get up for a game in front of six thousand people,” Senderoff said. “The key is moving forward and making sure we get up for every game the way we did in the Akron game.”

Henniger is confident, though, that his team will come through when its needs to now that the season has hit a turning point.

“We turned around the season now,” Henniger said. “We’re gonna bond together and hype each other to keep it intense like [the Akron game].”

Senderoff said Monday was a good day of practice, and the team seemed focused on the task at hand of getting a win streak going after losing four straight MAC games prior to the Akron game.

“Right now the key is to try to play your best basketball towards the end of the season, and February is the most important month for that for sure,” Senderoff said. “Hopefully that win against Akron will start spring boarding us toward the rest of this year.”

Although the Akron victory proved to be a beacon of hope for the Flashes to rally around, Senderoff and the team have already shifted their gaze toward Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, Kent State’s next-in-line opponent.

Like the Flashes, the Chippewas are no strangers to slumps. They are currently on an eight-game skid and have yet to win a game in the MAC with an 0-8 record.

Senderoff said Kent State will still keep an eye on Central Michigan despite the team’s sub-par record because of sophomore guard Chris Fowler, who currently ranks second in the MAC in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game.

“[Fowler] is one of the best guards in the league,” Senderoff said. “[Central Michigan] shoots the ball at all five positions, they press, they play a lot of zone, and it’s a road game, so we’ll have to play well Wednesday night to win.”

Central Michigan may not have the numbers and record to look like much of a threat, but Senderoff said their record does not do them justice. Two games ago, the Chippewas led East Division-leading Ohio by 18 points with 14 minutes to go but blew the game down the stretch.

Kent State will also play another MAC Michigan team this week in the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Senderoff said the Eagles play a zone defensive scheme and have one of the best defenses in the league — only giving up 63.8 points per game to rank second in the MAC — but the Flashes will set their sights on Eastern Michigan after the Central Michigan game Wednesday.

Much like in the Akron game, the Flashes will hope to get much production out of the entire roster — starters and bench players alike — this week against both Michigan teams.

Junior starting guard Kellon Thomas played a huge role in the Akron game by driving the lane and penetrating the Zips’ defense to open up the paint for his teammates.

His efforts allowed Kent State to outperform Akron in the points-in-the-paint category 36-30.

“I think I put a lot of pressure on their defense, and I think just me driving and everybody driving created a lot of opportunities at the basket, which is a big part of where we won the game at,” Thomas said.

Henniger was another marquee player in this past Saturday’s game when he came off the bench and put up seven points, grabbed seven rebounds and managed a steal.

“I just know I gotta bring energy, and I gotta make hustle plays that I try to make to just do my part,” Henniger said.

Wednesday’s tip-off at McGuirk Arena will be at 7 p.m., and Saturday’s matinee matchup inside Eastern Michigan’s Convocation Center is set to begin at 2 p.m.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].