Flashes defeat Buffalo 73-62 in MAC Tournament quarterfinals

Rachel Jones

The curse is broken.

After losing in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinal game two years in a row, the Kent State men’s basketball team buried Buffalo 73-62 Thursday.

“The problem was last year — for lack of a better word — we kind of choked,” said Kent State coach Geno Ford. “(We) might have wanted it too bad. We got punched in the mouth by an Ohio team that was like a bottle of lightning.”

But this time, the Flashes were the ones swinging.

Entering the Quicken Loans Arena as the MAC Regular Season Champions, the No. 1-seeded Flashes let everyone know why they earned that title right away.

Junior forward Justin Greene scored in less than 20 seconds, giving the Flashes (22-10, 13-4 MAC) an early lead that they maintained the entire game.

“We were in attack mode” -Rod Sherman

“We were in attack mode,” said senior guard Rod Sherman. “We ran really well. It got everyone excited.”

Buffalo looked like it was making a comeback with a six-point run in two minutes. But a 3-pointer by freshman forward Darius Leonard with 4:31 left in the first half kept the Flashes up 32-22.

A fast basket by Sherman with 19.1 seconds left ended the first half with Kent State up 41-25.

“We kind of won the game in the first half,” Ford said. “We kind of jumped on them and got the lead.”

Buffalo (18-13, 8-9 MAC) started the second half hungry for a comeback.

The Bulls’ two six-point runs made it look like a possibility as they closed the Kent State lead to 54-41 with 10:40 left in the game.

The closest the teams got was within five points, so Sherman said the team stepped up defensively to cling to its lead.

“Every game comes down to the last two minutes,” Sherman said. “The last two minutes you have to grind it out.”

Greene kept the Flashes alive by rebounding and stealing under the basket like he did in the first half.

Ford said the Flashes were too passive on defense against Buffalo earlier this season, so he encouraged more rebounds and turnovers this time.

“(Ford) calls us punks if we don’t get the rebounds,” Greene said. “As soon as I’d get it, I’d be looking for (a teammate), and they’d be off to the races.”

But some offensive action contributed as well.

Eight points from the foul line kept the Flashes in the lead and carried them to the 73-62 victory.

Ford said what made him the most proud in the game — besides winning the turnover race 18-9 — was how the younger players handled themselves in such a big tournament.

“There was no nervousness in our group,” Ford said. “As young as we were, that was comforting.”

The Flashes take on the winner of Thursday night’s Ohio vs. Ball State game at 9:30 p.m. in the Quicken Loans Arena.

“You compete for the Regular Season Championship, but you want to get to Friday,” Ford said. “Whatever team gets hot will win it. You just have to outscore the other team and it doesn’t matter how you do it.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].