MAC basketball tournament preview

DKS Sports Staff

The men’s and women’s basketball teams will travel to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for the Mid-American Conference Tournament this week.

The women’s team, No. 4, will face off against Eastern Michigan, No. 5, in the quarterfinals game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The Men’s team, No. 1, will play against the winners of Buffalo, No. 8, and Central Michigan, No. 9, at 7 p.m. on Thurdsay.

Click here for the complete schedule of the MAC Tournament

KentWired Video

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Video produced by Simon Husted

Men’s basketball starters:

Sophomore Guard
Randal Holt

Holt may shine on the court offensively, but Kent State coach Geno Ford admires the young player for his leadership skills.

His teammate Rod Sherman is not a very local leader. When Sherman faced having to lead the team on his own, Holt stepped up his vocalizations and helped Sherman bring the team together.

Ford said once both players started working together with freshman guard Eric Gaines, he saw a lot of improvement on individual and team scales.

Holt has improved offensively himself this season.

His two three-pointers and dagger baskets lifted Kent State over Akron on March 4 and led the Flashes to a 79-68 victory.

Averaging 9.4 points per game, Holt also shoots the second-highest free throw percentage on the team with .766. He also made 55 assists this season.

Biggest Strength: 3-pointers

Holt proved himself as a perimeter player this season, making the baskets when the other team’s defense clogs up the paint.

Sherman said the team depends on Holt to make those 3-point shots when forwards like Justin Greene get double-teamed, or the Flashes just need an extra boost in points.

With a three-point field percentage of .303, Holt has the fourth-highest percentage for the Flashes.

Biggest Weakness: Height

As a 6-foot-1-inch player, Holt is the shortest on the team and usually the shortest on the court during a game.

While he is quick and has good shooting skills, his height can make him the victim of turnovers, blocks and steals.

Junior forward
Justin Greene

After defeating Miami 78-57 Jan. 23, RedHawks coach Charlie Coles said, “Justin Greene is the best player on that Kent State basketball team.”

Even when Greene went through a slight mid-season slump, Kent State coach Geno Ford said the forward spent all of his extra time in the gym working on getting back in his groove.

It obviously paid off.

Greene not only leads the Flashes in points (16.1 per game), rebounds (7.7 per game) and blocks (1.4 per game), he is also the only player in the Mid-American Conference ranked in the top five in all three categories.

Those numbers earned Greene six MAC East Player of the Week titles this season, making him the first Kent State player to earn that many in one career.

Biggest Strength: Scoring

With 483 points this season, Greene has led Kent State in scoring in almost every game this year. Against Akron on March 4, he sank the two technical foul shots in the final 10 seconds, giving the Flashes their final score of 79-68.

His signature move is his hook shot, which Ford said is finally getting back the height Greene usually has.

Biggest Weakness: Double-teams

A lot of opponents see Greene as an offensive threat, so he spent a majority of the season working on spinning or passing the ball out of double or triple-team coverage. Greene said it is actually kind of humbling to know that many players want to keep him from the net.

Senior guard
Rod Sherman

As a team veteran, Sherman has had the duty of supporting the young team early on in the season.

Kent State coach Geno Ford said Sherman’s personality combined with his strong basketball skills makes him an ambassador for the men’s basketball team.

“Never have I coached a kid — in all honesty — that I’ve liked more than Rod Sherman,” Ford said. “There has never been a time where I thought, ‘Man, I wish Rod wasn’t doing what he’s doing right now.’ If my two kids grow up and act half as good as he acts, I’m going to be the proudest dad in the world.”

This greatness is evident on the court as well.

The Mid-American Conferences named Sherman the final Athlete of the Week for the season after he became the first player to win three MAC titles in one career.

Biggest Strength: Versatility

Sherman is the only MAC player ranked in the top 15 in steals (6th with 1.6 per game), 3-point field goal percentage (7th with .406), free throw percentage (9th with .757), assists (11th with 3.0 per game), field goal percentage (12th with .468) and scoring (13th with 12.9 points per game).

Biggest Weakness: Getting to the paint

Sherman said since a lot of teams know he can shoot threes, their defenses will run at him when he’s in 3-point range. This sometimes blocks him from getting closer to the net to score.

Junior center
Justin Manns

As a first-year Kent State player, Manns has really stood out — and not just because he’s 6 feet 11 inches tall.

Manns, who redshirted last season, always participates in the tip-off to start each game. Kent State coach Geno Ford said with his good hands and good feel for the ball, Manns can usually tip it off to one of his teammates.

“He plays with a passion and high, consistent energy,” Ford said. “He’s tall and has good timing, so he can catch the ball above his head in traffic.”

The center also uses these qualities to tip-in rebounds and slam-dunks.

Manns said he likes doing the dunks and alley-oops because they get the crowd fired up, fueling his team to keep scoring.

Biggest Strength: Blocks

His height and jump earned him 34 blocks this season, which is the second-most on the team.

Manns said he sees himself as a stronger defensive player and worked on achieving his goal of becoming the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Biggest Weakness: Inexperience

While 10 members of the Kent State men’s basketball team were also new this season, Manns arrived with even less experience than the others.

He only played organized basketball for four years before joining the Flashes.

But he did have a lot of potential. Ford said Manns spent a majority of the season working on consistency and improvement.

Once Manns started to reach that level in January, he gained more confidence, causing his teammates to be more confident in him, too.

Junior guard
Michael Porrini

There is only one word to describe Porrini: Tough.

“Mike possesses a rare package of quickness, strength and energy level,” said Kent State coach Geno Ford. “He’s also a gritty, gutty, hard-nosed guy who’s not afraid of contact.”

His toughness shows on the court, but Porrini is also tough with his teammates.

Ford said Porrini will get on other players if they are not playing their hardest. After seeing Porrini lead by example, his teammates never question or undermine the first-year Kent State player.

Porrini shined this season when his late-game baskets led to victories over Western Michigan on Feb. 21 and Buffalo on Feb. 24. His dunk on Buffalo was even sent to ESPN to be considered as a Sports Center Top 10 Play.

Biggest Strength: Defense

Porrini is ranked fifth in the Mid-American Conference with 53 steals this season and has the second most rebounds on the team with 125. He said his years of playing football created instincts to catch the ball any time it’s in the air.

Biggest Weakness: Fouling

While his aggressive, physical playing style is great for forcing turnovers and driving to the rim, it can sometimes get Porrini in trouble. The guard fouled out twice this season.

“It makes me turn it down a little bit because I have to be smarter and play my role for the team,” Porrini said. “It’s like I want to (go after the ball), but I know I could foul out as well, so I don’t.”

KentWired Video

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Video produced by Simon Husted; contributed by Phil Botta, Sam Verbulecz and MIchael Moses.

Other stories on the men’s basketball team:

Sherman, Guyton and Holt: Which of these three are the best at 3’s?

Flashes’ lone senior preps teammates for tournament

Greene, Ford awarded MAC honors

Women’s basketball starters:

Senior guard
Stephanie Gibson

Gibson has been the facilitator on Kent State’s offense as she has started at the point guard position since her freshman season. In this season, there is no exception as she is second on the team in assists, averaging 3.6 per game.

Gibson is a crucial part of the team’s offense with ball control.

“Everyone really needs to take care of the ball. We haven’t been doing that well lately with turnovers and execution,” Gibson said. “We just really need to concentrate on less turnovers.”

Turnovers have really hurt the Flashes this season, and in the MAC tournament, mistakes can be the death of a team. With one loss in the tournament, the team is done, and this tight-knit group knows the implications of a loss in the tournament.

“It’s definitely going to benefit us have the experience,” Gibson said. “With the MAC Tournament, it’s our last chance. We’re all seniors; we’re all going to lay it on the court because it’s the last time we could play college ball, so we all have to play as best we can together and be more physical than the other team and just go at them.”

Biggest Strengths: Assists

With her 425 career assists, Gibson knows what it means to be selfless and work for the team to get the looks they need. As well as being a solid ball distributor, Gibson is a career 30 percent 3-point shooter.

Weakness: Turnovers

Although Gibson is the best at dishing out looks, she struggles with turnovers. With 78 this season, Gibson will need to slow the ball down and control the ball better in order to cut down on costly turnovers.

Senior center
Ellie Shields

Shields provides a powerful presence in the post for the Flashes. Her ability to score points in the paint is the offense’s main strategy to open the floor up to shooters.

Kent State averages 35 rebounds per game as a team. Shields averages 4.0 per game, which is good enough for third best on the team.

Improving her position below the boards is something that will be desperately needed if the Flashes want to win the rebounding battle. Shields is the tallest Flash, standing in at 6 feet 3 inches, and has some of the best post moves on the Kent State roster.

Shields preaches offensive rebounds to the team in hopes of second-chance points.

“As a center, I need to hit glass hard by moving over people and just get good position,” Shields said. “I think that is going to be really key for me in the tournament. On offense, I just need to be a beast on the boards and get all the offensive boards I can get.”

Strength- Determination

At no point during a game will you see this senior quit or let her teammates down. Shields’s ability to get to the line will be key for her as she has upped her average at the free-throw line to 71 percent. If she can’t score down low, she works her body to draw fouls and is averaging a career-high 8.3 points per game this season.

Weakness- Consistency

Having a taller frame, Shields lacks consistency from one game to another, not just on points totals, but rebound totals as well. If she can string together solid performances in the tournament, the Flashes will have a crucial hand up on the competition.

Senior forward
Taisja Jones

Every team wants a Taisja Jones. Her ability to score 30 points in a game with ease and carry the team on her back makes her one of the premiere players in the MAC. Only playing with the Flashes for the past two seasons, Jones feeds the team with her energy and boosts the offense.

Scoring an impressive 36 points in an overtime win against Northern Illinois on Jan. 26, Jones has showed her leadership and value to the team in important games.

“I think it’s real important to have my best game in the tournament because it’s my last time playing at the Q and with my teammates,” Jones said. “I don’t need to do a lot points-wise but just go out there and do what I can but not regret anything.

“But it is really important that I play well because if me and (Humes) play well, the rest of the team feeds off that,” Jones said.

Strength- Scoring

Jones doesn’t have a problem scoring from anywhere on the floor. She has great moves in the paint and is 35 percent from beyond the arch. Her 42 percent shooting from the floor is one of the best in the MAC and averages a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game.

Weakness- Shot Selection

Because of her ability to score, Jones will sometimes take shots that don’t need to be taken. Her decision-making when teammates are covered can be questionable at times. She’s prone to forcing shots instead of buying time to find an open player.

Senior guard
Jamilah Humes

Humes is the nightly heat check for the Flashes. When she’s on, the team is on. Humes has been a contributor to the team’s success since her freshman year, averaging 12.4 points per game for her career.

Humes’s ability to be a deadly shooter from all points on the floor make her a valuable asset to the team’s offense. At the same time, she has great ability to draw attention by driving and kicking the ball out for an open look.

One of the biggest concepts that the team needs to understand, in her mind, is that they have played all these teams before and they all have improved.

“Eventually as the season goes on teams get better, especially because we’ve played every team already,” Humes said. “Now we have to come out with a different mindset and a different game plan because you have played that opponent before.”

Strength: Scoring

Humes is one of the most prolific scorers in school history and needs 57 points to surpass 1,500 points for her career. She is one of the team’s most valuable 3-point shooters (34 percent lifetime) and a solid passer (3.4 assists per game).

Weakness: Turnovers

Humes struggles at times getting in a groove but isn’t hesitant to shoot to get back in rhythm which leads to some empty possessions. At times, Humes has issues with touch passes, making her vulnerable to turnovers.

Senior forward
Chenel Harris

Harris is the only player to start all 28 regular season games for the Flashes this season. Her consistency on the defensive side of the ball as a shutdown defender makes her one of the best defensive weapons the team has.

A 3-point specialist, Harris is a career 33 percent shooter. With the strong offensive presence the Flashes have in the post, Harris is one of the best outside options the team has to score points in bunches.

“It’s crucial to score big buckets there (in the Mid-American Conference tournament) because any game could be your last,” Harris said. “Getting big buckets like that means the world to us especially to a majority senior team.”

Playing at a venue like Quicken Loans Arena is a bit more challenging because of the implications Harris feels, but she said she knows that you need to treat the games like any other.

“I wouldn’t assume we’re comfortable there. As soon as you get comfortable, things can go bad,” Harris said. “I think it takes the weight off our shoulders, the fact that we’ve been together so long, because we’ve had the opportunity to play with each other for so long.”

Strength- The 3 Ball

In her freshman season, Harris averaged a career high 10.8 points per game but hasn’t performed quite as well since. What has improved is her 3-point shooting, which will be a huge art of the Flashes’ repertoire.

Weakness- Getting open looks

If the post game hasn’t opened up, Harris is tightly guarded on the perimeter from getting shots off. With open looks, she is susceptible to missing shots occasionally.

Other stories on the women’s basketball team:

Women’s basketball to rival Eastern Michigan