Flashes open season with thrilling overtime victory over Drexel

Nick Shook

Kent State prepared for the 2012-13 regular season knowing that its first game was scheduled against one of the college basketball’s top mid-major teams.

But they didn’t let that deter them from a victory Friday night.

The Flashes (1-0) came back from an eight-point deficit in the second half to tie the game and force overtime, where senior guard Randal Holt’s experience was needed more than ever. Holt’s four converted free throws in the final 18 seconds lifted Kent State to a 66-62 win over Drexel (0-1) in front of 2,650 at the Memorial Athletic Convocation Center in Kent, Ohio.

“We knew going into this game a lot of people had wrote us off before the game even started and thought we were going to lose,” Holt said. “We just used that as fuel to the fire. We just went out there and played our hearts out and came out with a W.”

One person who didn’t write off the Flashes was Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint.

“Kent came to play, it was a big game for them, and they showed it,” Flint said. “They beat us to every loose ball, every loose rebound, and they played with toughness when they got down and we didn’t.

“They got a lot of younger guys on their team that did what they’re supposed to do. We got a lot of older guys who didn’t do what they were supposed to do.”

Leading by three with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime, Kent State’s Chris Evans leaped and swatted away an opposing shot attempt. The ball landed directly in the hands of Drexel’s Chris Fouch, who quickly made a 3-pointer to tie the game at 62-62.

Fouch then made a questionable decision, intentionally fouling Holt with 18 seconds left. Holt, a career 79.6 percent free throw shooter, calmly sank both free throws to give Kent State a 64-64 lead. Two possessions and two more converted free throws later, Kent State walked away with an overtime victory over the favored Dragons.

“I was surprised, they were in a situation where they didn’t have to foul,” Holt said. “If they would have just played it out, there’s no telling what would have happened…they ended up fouling and put me on the free throw line and I just went up there and stepped up with confidence and made two.”

The Flashes opened overtime with a dunk by Evans off a missed layup by Holt. Drexel regained the lead on a layup and converted free throw by Kazembe Abif, but an acrobatic, spinning layup by KSU forward Darren Goodson tied the game again at 59-59. A free throw from Kent State’s Kris Brewer gave the Flashes a one-point lead, and a pair of free throws from Evans put them ahead by three before Fouch again tied the game.

“Chris Fouch was on fire all night,” Holt said. “He’s a great shooter. Every open look, we were just praying that he’d miss it.”

Holt saw his first game action Friday since he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee during the offseason.

“The knee feels good, it’s just a matter of me getting back out there and getting the feel,” Holt said. “I’ve been down for four months. I just started practicing a week and a half ago. That just comes down to me getting back into the groove of the game.”

Holt found his groove in the second half and overtime, scoring 15 of his 17 total points in the final 25 minutes of the game.

  • Friday’s overtime win was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Kent State played an overtime game in the season-opener
  • The victory over Drexel extends Kent State’s season-opening win streak to five games
  • Kent State is now 56-41 all-time in home openers
  • Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff improved to 2-0 in season openers

In a new role this season, Evans shined in his first game, leading Kent State with 21 points and nine rebounds. Formerly the first option off the bench for the Flashes, the senior forward started the game and showed results of his offseason work.

“A lot of the young guys look to me for leadership, so I don’t and can’t really do things the same way if I were to do it last year,” Evans said. “I just try to show the young guys this is how we do things at Kent State.”

It was Evans’ second career 20-point game, and his presence made a significant statistical difference: Kent State held a plus-18 advantage in points scored when Evans was on the floor.

Lanky junior forward Mark Henniger finished with two points, but his career-high eight rebounds were most important to the Flashes victory.

“Mark Henniger, he played a key role for us tonight,” Evans said. “He really battled down there for us, and I don’t know if we would have won this game without him.”

The 6-foot-9, 215-pound Henniger faced a significant difference in size when it came to his opponents. Drexel forwards Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy stood at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9 and weighed 250 and 280 pounds.

“Coming into the game, coach told me my biggest role would be stopping them,” Henniger said. “…I’m not really worried about scoring as much. I’m just worried about my role just boxing them out, not letting them get offensive rebounds.”

“They were pretty big,” Henniger said. “I was just trying to hold my own out there.”

Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff was more than pleased with his team’s performance, especially in contrast to their less-than-impressive play in a 77-71 exhibition victory over Rochester on Sunday.

“Whoever was there would have been really disappointed in how we played, and rightfully so,” Senderoff said. “But the team that showed up on Sunday in that exhibition game was not the team that had been practicing for 17 days.

“Tonight, we played the way we need to play to win games, and it’s not just against a good team. We need to play that way to beat anybody.

“We played not caring about anything but winning, and for us, this team, this year, that’s got to be our formula.”

Kent State hosts Temple at 12 p.m. Tuesday at the M.A.C. Center.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].