Strong starts lead to quarterfinals victory

Nick Shook

The game

Justin Greene recorded his 800th career rebound Thursday night and was one rebound shy of a double-double.

Greene: 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists

Randal Holt: 13 points, five assists, three rebounds

Chris Evans: 13 points, three rebounds, two steals

Michael Porrini: 10 points, eight assists, six rebounds, one steal

Justin Manns: eight points, two rebounds, one steal

Eric Gaines: four points, three rebounds, one steal

Carlton Guyton: two points, two assists, two blocks

Thursday night was all about starts for Kent State.

The Flashes entered the Mid-American Conference Tournament with a fresh start after losing their final game of the regular season at home.

Kent State’s first-half start was about as perfect as it could be in the first 4:01 of the game, as the Flashes made all six of their shot attempts.

But the most important start of all came in the second half.

The Flashes have become notorious for their inability to carry strong first half performances over into the second period of play, but that wasn’t the case Thursday night. Kent State started the second half on an 11-2 run to take a 14-point lead over Western Michigan and withstood a late Broncos rally to earn a 76-72 victory in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals.

“We have a tendency to make things very difficult for ourselves,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “But the resiliency of the entire team, the way they played the game … to start the second half the way we did, these guys deserve a ton of credit for that.”

Kent State’s second half lead grew to as many as 19 points, but Western Michigan cut the deficit to as few as three before the final buzzer sounded. Kent State forward Justin Greene made four of the Flashes’ final six points to keep the Broncos from completing the comeback.

“My team got off to a good start in both halves, which is huge,” Greene said. “We’ve just got to clean up our laziness when we’re up 20. We can’t think ‘alright, the game is over.’ Like coach [Senderoff] always tells us, guys in this tournament are fighting for their lives. They don’t want to lose, and they’re not going away easy.”

Flashes earn MAC Honors

Kent State’s Justin Greene was named to the All-Mid-American Conference First Team by the conference. The 6-foot-8 senior forward earned his second first-team selection after leading the Flashes with 15.4 points per game in conference play. Greene is only the eighth player in Kent State history to twice be named All-MAC First Team.

Senior guard Michael Porrini was named to the All-MAC Second Team after being the only player in the MAC to average over nine points, five assists and four rebounds in conference action. The All-MAC honors are Porrini’s second in as many years at Kent State.

Senior guard Carlton Guyton was named to the All-MAC Honorable Mentions list after averaging 10.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. Guyton has played well since February and averaged 13 points in the final nine games of the regular season.

Junior guard Randal Holt rounded out the list of honorees for Kent State, as he was also named to the All-MAC Honorable Mentions. Holt averaged 12.6 points per game, including a 13.4 points per game average in MAC play, and made crucial shots for Kent State all season long. Holt’s most important 3-pointer came with just seconds remaining on the road at Eastern Michigan, which proved to be the game winner. His 65 3-pointers are the fourth-most by any player in the conference this season.

Kent State had four players honored for only the fourth time in school history, and the first time since 2008.

Greene now has 1,514 points and exactly 800 rebounds.

Greene played a major role in Kent State’s victory after scoring just eight points last Friday in the loss to Akron. The 6-foot-8 senior led all scorers with 23 points and got comfortable early in the game by making three jump shots within the first four minutes of play.

“It was good to see a couple shots drop,” Greene said. “When I got that shot rolling, I’m pretty tough to stop. I build confidence, and anything inside two or three feet is going to be finished by me.

“Coach always told me since I was a sophomore that good players don’t have back-to-back bad games,” Greene said. “I wanted to come out and make an emphasis early and let them know that I was here, and that I had a bad game last game and I wasn’t trying to do that.”

Kent State started the game with three quick steals, and senior guard Michael Porrini leaped out of bounds and into the first row of seating to attempt a fourth.

“I went to save the ball, I tried to throw it down the court,” Porrini said. “I came down on top of two chairs.

“I’m a tough kid. It hurt at the time, but I knew that losing would hurt even worse.”

Porrini and the rest of the Flashes didn’t have to experience the pain of losing Thursday night and hope to taste victory Friday in the MAC Tournament semifinals versus Akron, to whom they have fallen twice this season.

“We felt like the last two times this year, we blew both games,” Porrini said. “We didn’t look past Western Michigan, but we knew in the back of our minds what we wanted to get done, which is revenge. We’ve got that chance coming up tomorrow night.

“It’s going to be a good one. I know my boys are going to be ready, our coaches are going to have us ready and we’re going to try to come out with a win and get to the championship game Saturday.”

But Kent State’s goals do not stop on Friday.

“It’s not just about Akron, though,” Porrini said. “We’re here for the MAC Tournament, and we’re trying to get to the [NCAA] Tournament, so when we do that, that’s when we’ll be happy.”

Kent State and Akron will play at 7 Friday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. SportsTime Ohio will broadcast the game live.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].