The Flashes make an enjoyable upset


Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner

Rachel Jones

The Kent State men’s basketball team felt what it was like to be on the other side of a last-minute, 1-point victory Tuesday.

After falling to Akron 66-65 in overtime March 12, the No. 7 Flashes upset No. 2 St. Mary’s 71-70 thanks to a game-winning basket with 2.6 seconds left in the first round of the NIT in California.

“We’ve stolen a lot of games like that late,” said Kent State coach Geno Ford. “Our kids don’t quit. They keep fighting. They keep playing. They keep grinding.”

After leading offensively the first 14 minutes of the game, Kent State (24-11) was down 59-50 with 8:36 to go.

Junior center Justin Manns led the strong defensive coverage with four blocks and six rebounds. But the Flashes needed to actually score some points if they wanted to win.

Sophomore guard Randal Holt and junior guard Michael Porrini stepped up in that department, sinking one 3-pointer each within a minute to trail just 59-56.

Senior guard Rod Sherman, who needed his right foot taped up toward the end of the first half, also made a 3-point contribution with 4:43 to go and another basket right before the one-minute mark.

Hoping a comeback was in the works, the players looked more confident and entered attack-mode on the court.

Then, Porrini fouled St. Mary’s Mickey McConnell. McConnell shoots at 91 percent from the free throw line.

Ford stared at the court in disbelief, his mouth hanging open for several seconds.

But McConnell only made one basket, and Porrini quickly sank the rebound for a 68-67 lead with 35.4 seconds remaining.

St. Mary’s Clint Steindl drew a foul while missing a dunk with 24.9 seconds left. His free throws gave the Gaels a 70-67 lead.

Instead of opting for a 3-pointer to tie the game, Ford told the players to strive for a quick layup.

“The last thing I wanted to do was fire a three and put our entire season on one shot with that much time on the clock,” Ford said. “We were going for the quick two because we thought they wouldn’t foul.”

And they didn’t.

Instead of risking sending the Flashes to the free throw line, the Gaels just let Porrini run down to the basket.

The shot bounced off the rim, but a goaltending call gave Porrini the points.

He led the Flashes with 19 total points.

With 2.6 seconds on the clock, junior forward Justin Greene charged down the paint and sank the game-winning basket.

“When the chips are on the line, we make the tough plays,” Ford said. “We didn’t want the season to end.”

McConnell attempted a layup in the final seconds but missed. Kent State charged the court in celebration as the Gaels looked around wondering why their season had to end.

While the Flashes are known for their tough, aggressive playing style, they were definitely the underdogs against the six-time NIT Champion Gaels.

Ford, a self-proclaimed fan of St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, said he was proud that Kent State came back to beat a team he has been following all year.

“Our teams are very different,” Ford said. “They have more shooters. We have a little more athleticism. We don’t lead the league in one single category except wins. We certainly have a lot of respect for those guys and feel very fortunate to leave here with a win.”

Ford said canceling the last two practices seemed to benefit the team Tuesday.

“It’s the first time our kids have touched a ball since the loss Saturday,” Ford said. “It might have helped because you have the hangover of disappointment (after a loss), and if we practiced, we might have been sort of lethargic and down.”

The Flashes travel Fairfield in the second round of the NIT. Kent State will play either Saturday or Sunday.

The official time and date of the game will be determined by the NIT Committee following the conclusion of the first round games on Wednesday night.

But nothing will determine if it will come down to a heart-racing finale like the game against St. Mary’s.

“This is probably one of the biggest wins of my career,” Greene said. “To do it on the road, against a team that was in the Top 25 for most of the season and to do it in the situation we did it? It was just great.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].