Men’s basketball starts NIT

Rachel Jones

Kent State men’s basketball fans will have to stay up late if they want to catch the team’s first round game in the NIT Tuesday.

The No. 7 Flashes take on No. 2 Saint Mary’s at 11 p.m. on ESPN2.

But the late-night watchers are not the only ones who will be tired.

The Flashes (23-11, 12-4 Mid-American Conference) came back to Kent after the MAC Tournament Saturday, then left Monday for the game in California.

Three games in three days last weekend took a toll on the players’ bodies, as did the emotional strain of the 66-65 overtime loss to Akron Saturday for the MAC Championship.

Kent State coach Geno Ford said senior guard Rod Sherman was probably the player hurting the most on Saturday.

“I don’t think it was mental,” Ford said. “He was just tired.”

After four major knee surgeries, the senior does not even practice the day after a game, so playing three games in a row on cartilage that’s not great in one knee was tough, Ford explained.

Sherman pushed through but scored eight points against Akron. He averages 13.1 points.

“I know he’s really disappointed,” Ford said. “But he’ll take more pain than a lot of guys will take.”

And that pain was emotional, too.

As the only senior, Sherman took the burden of leading the young team and willing the 10 new players through any rough patches throughout the season.

“We had to ride him pretty hard the last two nights (of the tournament) and most of the year,” Ford said. “That’s who we turned to: ‘C’mon, Rod, you have to get the team going.’”

Junior forward Justin Greene said the team got going all season to try to get wins for Sherman’s last season.

“He’s a great person on the court and off the court,” Greene said. “He’s been our leader all year. That’s what our main goal was: to get to the (NCAA) Tournament for Rod.”

While the Flashes fell short, junior guard Michael Porrini said team will step it up in the NIT.

This is the 12th postseason game for Kent State in the last 13 years.

The Gaels (25-8, 11-3 West Coast Conference) entered the NIT after winning the WCC Regular Season Championship then falling to their rival Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament.

At one point this season, they were ranked 22nd in the nation. They are currently 14th in the U.S. in points per game (79.2) and sixth in field goal percentage shooting (48.7).

Ford said the Flashes will have to step up their defensive play for a shot at a win.

The winner of Tuesday’s battle will face whoever wins in the Colorado State-Fairfield game.

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].