Flashes enter NIT against St. Mary’s

Rachel Jones

When junior guard Michael Porrini came to terms with losing the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship to Akron, he decided to stay focused on the future.

“We all grow up wanting to play in the (NCAA) Tournament, and we were right there,” Porrini said. “But we still have NIT to go to.”

The No. 7 Flashes travel to No. 2 St. Mary’s on Tuesday at 11 p.m. EST in the first round of the NIT.

“This is another great opportunity for our program to go up against a high quality program in front of a nationally televised ESPN2 audience,” said Geno Ford, Kent State coach. “We are one of only a few teams in the country to be fortunate enough to still be playing, so anytime you get to this point of the season, it is something special.”

The Gaels (25-8, 11-3 West Coast Conference) reached the NIT after losing to Gonzaga 75-63 in their conference championship game.

The veteran team has been to the NCAA Tournament six times, including a Sweet 16 spot last season.

“Saint Mary’s is a smart team that really executes well on offense,” Ford said.  “We are going to have to have a great game defensively by applying ball pressure and forcing them to take tough, contested shots.”

Junior center Justin Manns and Porrini will be working their trademark blocks and steals, respectively, to combat that strong Gael offense.

St. Mary’s boasts junior forward Rob Jones, who averages 13.6 points and 7.7 rebounds and earned eight double-doubles this season. Senior guard Mickey McConnell averages 16.7 points and is .906 from the free throw line.

Compare that to junior forward Justin Greene, who averages 15.7 points and 8.5 rebounds, and senior guard Rod Sherman, who averages 13.1 points and is .705 in foul shots.

“On offense, we hope to be able to take advantage of some of our quickness by spreading the floor and getting to the basket,” Ford said.

As the MAC regular season champions, the Flashes (23-11, 12-4 MAC) earned an automatic bid to the NIT, which consists of 32 teams — eight teams from each of the four regions. Fourteen of the selected teams are conference champions.

The teams will advance through their brackets until the championship game on March 30 at Madison Square Garden.

“We still have a lot of basketball to go,” Porrini said. “We need to step it up another level.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected]