Flashes shine on national stage in victory over Ball State

Nick Shook

Amid a snow storm and after an unusually early start, Kent State defeated Ball State, 76-55, Saturday at the M.A.C. Center.

In front of a national television audience, the Flashes extended their winning streak against Mid-American Conference West Division opponents to an even 30 games.

“I didn’t want to talk about [the streak] until we were done playing the West,” coach Rob Senderoff said. “Because like a baseball pitcher throwing a no-hitter, you don’t want to talk about it. It’s a great accomplishment for our players.”

Kent State’s Justin Greene was matched up with one of the best forwards in the conference, Ball State’s Jarrod Jones. Greene not only scored 18 points, but also held Jones, who entered the game averaging 16.7 points per game, to a meager seven points. Jones made just two of 12 shot attempts as Greene played well both offensively and defensively to lead the Flashes to their sixth victory in a row.

“Jarrod Jones and [Greene] came in the same year,” Senderoff said. “There were a number of NBA scouts here to see [Jones] … when you’re at the same position as [Jones] and you’re compared to him because Jones was the freshman of the year, you play with a chip on your shoulder against that person. Justin certainly does that and he did that today.”

“That started my freshman year,” Greene said. “[Former head coach Geno Ford] used to mess with me a lot. Tried to motivate me and tell me Jarrod Jones has the freshman of the year in his hands and it’s all his, he’s the best in our class. I always take it personal playing against him. I know he’s one of the best players in the league and one of the best bigs in the league as well, so I’ve got to try to match his intensity and outplay him. Especially at home and on national television, I don’t want to get exposed.”

With the win, Greene remained undefeated in his career versus MAC West opponents.

“Justin Greene, he hasn’t lost a game to the MAC West,” Senderoff said. “That’s a great accomplishment for him, something he can take with him forever.”

“It feels real good, [it’s the] regular season though,” Greene said. “You never know, we might see them in the MAC Tournament, but I don’t plan on losing to them then either.”

The streak, which dates back to Feb. 2, 2008, includes MAC Tournament games, and Kent State is likely to face at least one MAC West opponent in the tournament.

“We may still play one of these teams in the MAC Tournament,” Senderoff said. “A lot of these games have been very close and come down to the wire. Our kids have found a way to win. It’s obviously a great accomplishment. For our seniors, there’s still a 50-50 chance that we’re going to face somebody again from the West and we’ll have to play well.”

Four players scored in double-digits for Kent State in the victory: junior guard Randal Holt scored 13 points, senior guard Carlton Guyton scored 14 points and junior forward Chris Evans came off the bench to score 11 points for the Flashes.

Evans was again the provider of highlight-reel plays, including an alley-oop in the first half that was part of a 16-5 run that gave Kent State an 11-point lead.

“I’ve never seen anybody jump like Chris Evans,” Greene said. “He’s crazy athletic. He’s put in the right system with us. We love to run so as soon as we get a rebound, we’re ready to push it and you’re going to find him on that wing running for the alley-oop. Mike [Porrini] and Scootie [Carlton Guyton] and Randal [Holt] do a great job looking for him. They put it anywhere, all he’s got to do is go get it.”

“That dunk today should be on [SportsCenter] top 10,” Greene said. “I hope it is. Try to get us some recognition and get him some recognition.”

Ball State started the second half on a 10-2 run to come within a point of tying Kent State, but the Flashes responded with a 20-6 run to take a 60-40 lead with 10:17 remaining in the game. The Flashes remained ahead for the rest of the game and came away with a 21-point victory.

Kent State’s hopes of earning their third regular season title in a row looked unlikely after the Flashes fell to both Ohio and Akron. With a conference record of 2-3, Senderoff and his seniors met to discuss the state of the team and their aspirations for winning another championship.

“We just talked about how time is running out and you’ve got to play the right way every game to win,” Senderoff said. “We watched the last 12 minutes of the Akron game and from that point on. Our kids have just really focused on winning each game. We haven’t talked about anything big-picture, except to say that everything is still in front of them. By doing that, we’ve been able to keep rattling off wins and now we’re in the home stretch.”

Since the discussion, Kent State has won six straight conference games and will face the MAC East again starting Tuesday when the Flashes host Buffalo.

“These last six games, we’ve been defending the ball and rebounding a little better,” Greene said. “As we continue to get better at those two things, we can keep this thing rolling into the MAC East and right on into the MAC Tournament.”

The game between Kent State and Buffalo is set to begin at 7 p.m.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].