Men’s basketball is counting on its fans

Rachel Jones

When it comes to home games, the Kent State men’s basketball team thrives off its crowd.

Even with ESPN cameras, Tuesday’s game brought in about 1,500 people to the stands of the M.A.C. Center — the smallest crowd at a regular season game since 1998 when 1,278 fans watched Kent State host Wilberforce. At last season’s National Invitational Tournament game against Tulsa, where students had to pay for tickets, the M.A.C. Center held just 1,175.

Kent State coach Geno Ford said he understands why the crowd was sparse Tuesday morning but thinks the situation should be different tonight when the Flashes take on Furman at 7 p.m. tonight.

“If we keep playing well, they’ll get their butts out there,” Ford said. “Hopefully, (tonight) when we’re tipping it off again, they’ll be there.”

While a huge group of screaming fans always makes the games more exciting, Ford said the support actually helps the players perform better.

“We’re going to need them,” Ford explained. “Our student section is as significant part of our winning percentage as anything we do here. We’re closing in on (winning about 90 percent home games), and you don’t do that by yourself. You need the crowd. You need the students.”

Junior forward Justin Greene said winning at home is an important goal for the team every season.

“That’s our motto: We don’t lose at home, and we don’t lose two in a row,” Greene said.

Although the season just started, the Flashes (3-1) have managed to stay on track with those goals.

Looking at the season in the long run, Ford said home wins are part of the strategy to win championships.

“To have a chance to win a championship, you have to go undefeated at home — at most you can lose one,” Ford said. “You cannot get beat in your home gym.”

That may seem like a tall order, but sophomore guard Randal Holt said he’d rather play at home because the familiar atmosphere boosts his confidence.

This was evident Tuesday when Holt sank the go-ahead 3-pointer that earned the Flashes a 62-59 victory over Robert Morris.

“At the tournament at Cleveland State (last weekend), I was going through little bit of a shooting slump,” Holt said. “(Tuesday) I just shot the ball with confidence and watched it go in.”

Holt scored 12 total points against the Colonials, while Greene posted 20.

“The good thing to me about this one was that we beat a really good team,” Ford said. “(Robert Morris is) going to win a bunch of games, and you’ll see them in March in the NCAA Tournament.”

After defeating UNC Asheville 69-67 on Tuesday, Furman (2-0) may prove to be an equally tough contender.

The Paladins will visit Kent State in their first of three games this weekend — a completely different situation than the home team is in.

Before Tuesday’s early morning matchup, the Flashes played three consecutive games in the World Vision Classic Tournament at Cleveland State.

But Ford said the ability to handle such a packed schedule proves how much the players are able to handle.

“This schedule was put together to test our toughness,” Ford said. “The last time we played five games in a week, we were 0-5. This team has gone 3-1, so, obliviously, we’re doing better.”

Contact Rachel Jones at [email protected].