Kent State enters CIT with goal of continuing winning tradition


Senior guard Michael Porrini dribbles past sophomore guard Alex Abreu, senior forwards Justin Greene and Nikola Cvetinovic at the Q on March 9. The Flashes fell to the Zips 74 to 78. Photo by Adrianne Bastas.

Nick Shook

Despite a disappointing exit in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals, Kent State’s season isn’t over yet.

The Flashes accepted an invitation to the 32-team Tournament, which began Tuesday night. Kent State will face South Carolina Upstate Thursday at 7 p.m. in the last game of the tournament’s first round.

When news of the tournament pairing was first released, many fans asked the same question: South Carolina who?

Meet the Spartans.

USC Upstate, located in Spartanburg, S.C., is a university that boasts an enrollment of 5,500 students. The Spartans spent five years transitioning from the NCAA’s Division II to its current membership in Division I, and posted a 20-win season in their first full season in Division I after winning just five games in 2010-11.

Led by Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year Torrey Craig, the Spartans finished first in the conference in rebounding margin (plus-4.6). Coach Eddie Payne earned his 400th win and was named A-Sun Coach of the Year.

USC Upstate was happy to pay the CIT fee to host a tournament game in its first-ever postseason appearance. The Spartans have already sold all 800 tickets for Thursday night’s game, and the Spartanburg community is excited to host Kent State in the first round of the tournament.

The Flashes are making their second CIT appearance, with their first coming in the tournament’s inaugural season in 2009.

“Tradition never graduates here at Kent State,” junior guard Randal Holt said. “It’s always a good thing to continue our streak, and that’s good for our team and recruiting purposes.”

“In these leagues, a mid-major league like the MAC, it’s hard to get to the postseason,” Flashes coach Rob Senderoff said. “The fact that we’ve done that 13 out of 14 years is a pretty remarkable feat. There’s no one in our league that’s even close to that.

“It means that we’re building a program that’s going to last,” junior forward Brian Frank said. “When we leave, it’s something that we’ll leave for the kids coming in. It gets the recruits excited about coming here, because they know that once the regular season is over, they’ve still got something to play for.”

Although Kent State isn’t playing in the NCAA Tournament, the Flashes are still happy to be involved in postseason play.

“It’s natural that you’re disappointed because that’s what everybody’s goal is,” Senderoff said. “To get to go to the postseason is an accomplishment in itself, because it signifies that you had a successful year. I’m not going to tell you that I’m not disappointed or our team’s not disappointed. The day I’m not disappointed that we didn’t go to the NCAA Tournament is the day I should stop coaching.”

Kent State is focused on putting its MAC Tournament loss in the past and moving on to prepare for the Spartans.

“There’s nothing else we can do,” Frank said. “We’ve just got to play. It’s another chance for the seniors to wear a Kent State uniform. Guys like Justin Greene, it’s more ammunition to retire his jersey. He’s one of the greatest players to ever play here. It’s more stuff to build on for him and more memories.”

“We can’t dwell on it too much,” senior center Justin Manns said. “It happens; it is what it is. We’ve just got to keep going forward. We want to go into this tournament with the right mindset to play Kent State basketball, play with a lot of effort and passion.”

Kent State is one of four MAC teams participating in the CIT, and it is possible that the Flashes may face a conference opponent in the tournament.

“It wouldn’t shock me,” Senderoff said. “We have to win, and then we’ll see what happens.”

Thursday night may very well be the last game in a Kent State uniform for the Flashes’ four seniors.

“I tell them exactly that,” Senderoff said. “You might be playing your last game, so you should play hard. If you don’t, that’s what you’ll remember. I would expect us to play hard.”

A CIT championship could serve as a positive starting point for Kent State’s 2012-13 season.

“Winning a championship is always a good thing, no matter if its the CIT, the NIT or the NCAA,” Holt said. “A championship is a championship. That’s our goal.”

“Success, it breeds itself in people,” Frank said. “The young guys that see success, they get the taste of it. If we win this tournament, these young guys are going to come in here next year ready to go. They’re going to say ‘well, we won that tournament. We’re going to win the league [next year]. Then the league’s going to turn into the tournament, then the tournament’s going to turn into the NCAA Tournament, and we’re going to make a run for it.’ It just keeps building.”

Kent State will play USC Upstate on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected] or @NickShook