Men’s basketball hosts Fairfield in CIT opener


Shane Flanigan

The men’s basketball team watches the game from the bench as Kent State defeated Akron 68-64 on Friday, March 8, 2013 at James A. Rhodes Arena. The win snapped a five-game losing streak to the Zips. Photo by SHANE FLANIGAN.

Tim Dorst

Kent State’s hopes of a Mid-American Conference tournament title and a spot in the NCAA tournament ended Friday with a 62-59 semifinal loss to the Akron Zips at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. While the Flashes won’t be a part of March Madness this season, they will still find themselves in postseason play starting this week.

The Flashes will host Fairfield in the opening round of the Postseason Tournament at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the M.A.C. Center. A winter storm delayed Fairfield’s flight to Ohio until Tuesday afternoon, prompting the change from the original date of Tuesday.

The CIT consists of 32 teams, many of which are mid-major colleges that did not receive invitations to the NCAA tournament or the National Invitation Tournament. This will be the third time the Flashes have participated in the CIT and the first time they have hosted a game in the tournament.

After Friday’s loss to the Zips, head coach Rob Senderoff thanked athletic director Joel Nielsen and deputy athletic director Devin Crosby for showing a level of commitment to the team by paying $35,000 for Kent State to host its first CIT game.

“There’s a financial commitment from your university to host a game,” Senderoff said. “The fact that they’re willing to do this for this group of guys, I’m really appreciative that they’re going to do this.”

The Flashes finished the season with a 20-13 overall record, reaching the 20-win mark for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons. After compiling a 9-7 conference record, the Flashes defeated Buffalo 70-68 in the quarterfinals of the MAC tournament before their loss to the Zips.

Senderoff said despite the abrupt exit from the tournament, he believes Kent State had the kind of season that the university and the men’s basketball program can be proud of.

“We were 12-11 at one time this year, and we weren’t expected to do as well as we did,” Senderoff said. “I thought we really represented the school the right way on the court as well as off the court. I think hosting this game is a recognition of how the people here want to make sure our program stays at a high level.”

Kent State will be taking on a team that has faced a similar path. The Stags, who finished the season with a 19-15 record, fell short of capturing a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title when they lost to Manhattan College in the semifinals of the MAAC tournament.

Fairfield, led by senior guard Derek Needham, finished the regular season in sixth place in the MAAC standings with a conference record of 9-9. Needham averaged 14.4 points this season, earning second-team All-MAAC honors.

Kent State has competed against Fairfield once before in the second round of the 2011 NIT, where the Flashes defeated the Stags 72-68. Last season, the Flashes lost their first round game in the CIT to South Carolina Upstate.

Senior guard Randal Holt said the Flashes have been playing with a chip on their shoulder all year long, and that will continue on Tuesday.

“We go out there every game and play our hardest,” Holt said. “We play to earn the respect that we think we deserve, no matter what the situation.”

Holt and senior forward Chris Evans lead the way for the Flashes, having both received all-MAC honors this season. Evans was included on the All-MAC First Team, while Holt received third-team All-MAC recognition.

Senderoff said Friday’s defeat took a lot out of the players, but he believes the Flashes will recover from the loss as they have done following earlier losses this year.

“That’s how our guys have been all along,” Senderoff said. “We’ve fought back, and I expect us to fight back on Tuesday. I hope that our fans will appreciate the effort that we’ve given all year and will come to the game on Tuesday.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].