With its exciting 73-71 victory over the Fairfield Stags Wednesday in the M.A.C. Center, the men’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament for the first time in school history. The Flashes have their eyes set on becoming CIT champions, and they could get one step closer with another win this weekend.
Kent State hits the road for a showdown against the Loyola University Maryland Greyhounds scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Reitz Arena in Baltimore, Md.
The Flashes (21-14) are 2-0 all-time against the Greyhounds (22-11), winning their last meeting 57-56 in 1998. Loyola Maryland won its first CIT game Tuesday, defeating Boston University 70-63 in a comeback victory to advance to the second round.
It will be a relatively short preparation time for the Flashes as they found out who their next opponent would be only a few hours after Wednesday’s game. But head coach Rob Senderoff said the focus will be more on what Kent State’s players can do and less on what the Greyhounds have in store.
“It’s really about our kids right now,” Senderoff said. “We’ve now won 21 games, which matches last year’s total. I felt like at the beginning of the year that I thought we would have a good season. There were some rocky patches, but this team managed to win 21 games with the amount of inexperience we had.”
The Flashes bounced back from a disappointing loss to the Akron Zips in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament to take their first-round game in the CIT. While the Flashes missed out on an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, Senderoff compared the resiliency of this year’s team with the Kent State teams that made it to the tournaments in the past.
“The will and resolve of this team, I would put it right under those teams,” Senderoff said. “I think we probably match some of those tournament teams in other areas, maybe just not experience and maybe not talent. But with will and resolve, we’ve gotten to where we are.”
Loyola Maryland entered the CIT after a swift exit from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. The Greyhounds, who went 12-6 in MAAC games this year, were eliminated in the first round of the conference tournament after a 50-49 loss to Manhattan College.
Senior guard Randal Holt echoed Senderoff statement, saying the players needs to focus on what they can improve on and solidify in the days leading up to Sunday’s game.
“We just need to work on ourselves now,” Holt said. “Come in to practice the next couple days, get some shots up, get treatment and work on what we have to do to help us win from this point on.”
Holt scored 18 points Wednesday night and made the go-ahead layup with 3.4 seconds left to win the game for the Flashes. For Kent State to get the win Sunday, the team will likely need more of a boost from senior forward Chris Evans as well as Holt.
Evans addressed concerns about the health of his right ankle after he had to wear a protective boot just days prior to the MAC tournament. Evans said the injury has not affected his performance on the court or his minutes in the second half of the game against Fairfield, but Senderoff said Evans is still not 100 percent healthy.
“I don’t think he wants anyone to think that’s an excuse on his part,” Senderoff said. “But Chris keeps fighting through and trying to help us, and I felt he helped us quite a bit in the second half. If we have any chance to continue to advance in the tournament, we’re going to need him to play well.”
Since his 25-point game against Buffalo in the MAC tournament, Evans has scored a combined 12 points and shot 3-for-18 in the last two games.
Sunday’s game for the Flashes means at least one more game for the seniors on the team. The next game could be senior forward Brian Franks’ last ever as a member of the Flashes, and Frank said he has enjoyed his time with the team and being able to play in the postseason.
“Postseason is always the most fun,” Frank said. “Once we make up our minds that we want to play and we want to win, we can just enjoy it and have fun. It definitely means a lot to me because I’m not going to play basketball after this. This is my last go-around with the team, and I couldn’t think of a better team to go out with.”
Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected]