Flashes men’s basketball looks to keep rolling Saturday

Kent State’s Chris Evans (5) takes a jump shot while being defended by Youngstown State’s Damian Eargle (21) during the second half of the Flashes’ 85-78 win over Youngstown State on Nov. 28, 2012, in the Beeghly Center on the campus of Youngstown State University. Photo by Dustin Livesay.

Nick Shook

After two hard-fought victories on the road, Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff and his players are happy to return home, even if it is just for one game.

Kent State (5-2) hosts Princeton (2-4) 7 p.m. Saturday at the M.A.C. Center.

“It’s good being at home to get us back here [for] one last game before finals week,” Senderoff said.

Princeton returns four starters from a team that won 20 games in 2011-12 before falling to Pittsburgh in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament.

The Tigers and their famous Princeton offense are led by senior Ian Hummer’s 16 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 forward is the only Tiger to average double figures in points per game and is currently 11th on the all-time scoring list for Princeton with 1,266 points.

“[Hummer is] probably as good of a post player as anybody we’ve faced this year,” Senderoff said.

Junior forward Will Barrett is averaging 9.7 points per game for Princeton, but his size and shooting proficiency make him a unique match-up for opposing defenses. The 6-foot-11 Barrett has made 50 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.

“[Barrett is] a pretty big kid, so it’ll be a really tough game for us,” Senderoff said.

After beating Mid-American Conference member Buffalo 57-53 in the season opener, the Tigers have lost four of their last five games. But Senderoff says Princeton shouldn’t be judged by its record alone.

“They’ve struggled a little bit with their record, but they lost one game at the buzzer, they lost one game in overtime,” Senderoff said. “They’re a possession away from being 4-2.”

Freshman Chris Ortiz left Wednesday night’s game at Youngstown State in the first half with a foot injury after getting caught up in contact under the basket and did not return to the game. X-rays revealed Thursday that he fractured his foot. The 6-foot-8 forward will have a pin surgically inserted into his foot as soon as possible, which Senderoff hopes will be early next week. His timetable to return to action is six weeks after the completion of surgery, Senderoff said.

“Chris started our last three games,” Senderoff said. “We won all three of them and he played very well in all of them. Guys will just have to step up and take his spot.”

Junior guard Bryson Pope will replace Ortiz in the starting lineup Saturday, but his long-term replacement is up for grabs.

“It may give an opportunity to one of the other guys who hasn’t played a lot in Earv[in Morris Jr.], Dev[areaux Manley], or Khaliq [Spicer], because that’s 16-17 minutes a game that are out there,” Senderoff said.

Spicer, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward, could see the most playing time of his Kent State career if the Flashes have to handle a disadvantageous match-up at forward.

Ortiz isn’t the only freshman who has made a positive impact for the Flashes this season. Freshman guard Kellon Thomas has started the past three games at point guard in place of sophomore Kris Brewer, who was dealing with flu-like symptoms for the better part of the past week.

“Kellon’s been playing great and it’s nice to see,” Senderoff said. “38 minutes on the road and zero turnovers. He’s doing a really good job.”

The young Flashes have showed an unexpected level of maturity and resilience in adverse situations thus far, thanks in part to the leadership of the senior class, Senderoff said.

“Randal [Holt], Chris [Evans], Brian Frank, those three guys are really leading the team,” Senderoff said. “They’ve done a great job so far and our guys are really responding to their leadership.”

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].