Men’s basketball defeats Fairfield, advance to second round of CIT

Junior Guard Bryson Pope dribbles around a Fairfeild defender at the College Insider Tournament on Wednesday, Mar. 20. The flashes won the game 73-71. Photo by Rachael Le Goubin.

Tim Dorst

The Kent State men’s basketball team hosted the Fairfield Stags Wednesday as the seniors on the team got another chance to play in front of their home fans in the M.A.C. Center. With an opportunity to advance in the Postseason Tournament at stake, senior guard Randal Holt made sure his final home game would not be his final college game.

Holt hit a layup with 3.4 seconds left to propel the Flashes to a 73-71 win over the Stags Wednesday night. Kent State advances to the second round of the CIT for the first time in school history.

With 16.2 seconds left in the game and the score tied at 71, the Flashes came out of a timeout and worked the ball over to Holt to run the clock down. Holt drove left into the lane and finished a contact layup as the 1,855 fans in attendance exploded into cheers.

Fairfield guard Derek Needham, who had hit the game-tying 3-pointer less than a minute earlier, missed a half-court shot at the buzzer, and the Flashes walked off the court celebrating the victory.

It was a special feeling for Holt, knowing that it could have been his last game in the M.A.C.C.

“It felt good to go out with a win,” Holt said. “We get to keep our season alive one more day, one more game. To do it in front of our home fans, playing for those guys one more time, it was just a great feeling.”

Holt, who led the Flashes with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting, also broke the team record for 3-pointers in a single season with a long-distance shot at the 11:20 mark in the second half. He now has 88 3-pointers this season.

The Flashes’ aggressive play led to a bevy of free throws throughout the game as the team shot 22-for-33 from the line, 24 of those free throws coming in the first half. Kent State also grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and out-rebounded the Stags overall, 46-34.

Head coach Rob Senderoff said it took a few days for the Flashes to move past their loss to Akron in the Mid-American Conference tournament semifinals, but they showed resiliency in bouncing back from that disheartening defeat.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well obviously, but there were times in the game where I thought we looked really good,” Senderoff said. “We played better in the first half than we did in the second half, but I thought our kids fought through it.”

Kent State won despite shooting just 36 percent from the field, while the Stags finished at 45 percent.

The Flashes led 36-26 at halftime and and held the lead for most of the second half before the Stags began to make a run. A tip-in by forward Coleman Johnson and a driving layup by Needham brought Fairfield within four points with nine minutes to go.

The Stags forced the Flashes into a number of turnovers in the second half and tied the game at 64 on a jumper by Needham with less than four minutes remaining in the game. Needham led the Stags with a game-high 22 points.

A clutch 3-pointer by Holt put the Flashes back in the lead, and Kent State got big plays down the stretch from juniors Bryson Pope and Darren Goodson to stay just ahead of Fairfield before Holt hit the game-winner.

Pope added 10 points in the game, and both Goodson and junior forward Mark Henniger each ended the night with eight points and 10 rebounds.

Holt said he feels the players came into the tournament with the right mindset and knowing that the team is still playing for a championship.

“We know that there are great teams playing in the CIT just like us,” Holt said. “Regardless if it’s the CIT or wherever we play, we’re playing for a championship. That’s what we’re here to do.”

The Flashes could play their second-round game either Saturday or Sunday with their opponent still to be determined, and Holt said he and his teammates will still have the drive and commitment to continue playing.

“We don’t quit at Kent State,” Holt said. “We play until the clock hits zeros, and we play until the season is completely finished. At the end of the day, this is what we love to do and what we were brought here to do. That’s just what we’re going to do.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].