Flashes awake in second half to beat Robert Morris, 62-59

Josh Johnston


Maybe 8 a.m. was a little too early for the Kent State men’s basketball team.


The Flashes needed a wake-up call at halftime of Tuesday morning’s game to overcome a 12-point deficit and edge Robert Morris 62-59 on national television at the M.A.C. Center.

The game played as part of ESPN’s third annual 25-hour Tip-Off Marathon. However, despite the national attention, fewer than 1,500 fans showed up for the early morning game.

And in the first half, the Flashes, finishing off a five-day, four-game marathon of their own, looked just as tired as their fans.

“As much as the start time was a factor, the four games in five days was a major factor,” Kent State coach Geno Ford said. “We didn’t have great legs. We were sluggish. We were tired.”

Junior forward Justin Greene said Ford’s halftime talk sparked the Flashes’ second-half comeback.

“I can’t really say what was said at halftime,” Greene said with a smile, “but it was a strong message to us.”

After a sloppy half of basketball in which Kent State shot just 7 of 23 from the field while allowing Robert Morris to fire away with a 13 of 29 shooting effort, Ford had some choice words for his team.

“We were trying to get them a little more alert and a little more enthusiastic,” Ford said. “It would have been along the lines of, ‘We appreciate that you got out of bed this morning. It’d be nice if we could play.’”

Greene, who finished the morning with a team-high 20 points and 12 rebounds, led the charge out of halftime. A layup across the middle of the key at 18:01 in the second half started a 13-2 rally that brought Kent State to within a point of the Colonials.

Robert Morris held back Greene in the first 20 minutes, limiting the junior to nine points and four rebounds. In the second half, however, Greene outpaced his defenders.

“They worked a little harder in the first half (guarding me),” Greene said. “I think they got a little tired trying to bang down there with me in the second half so I was able to get good position and finally get some shots up.”

Still, the Colonials maintained their advantage through much of the second half. A mid-court steal by sophomore guard Velton Jones set up a wide-open layup for sophomore forward Russell Johnson to give Robert Morris a 48-42 lead with 9:21 left in the game.

But again the Flashes responded. Junior center Justin Manns tipped in a missed 3-pointer and converted the and-one to cut the Colonials’ lead in half. Less than a minute later, junior guard Michael Porrini drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game.

With senior guard Rod Sherman on the sidelines because of a concussion suffered at Sunday’s Cleveland State game, the Flashes had to rely on their depth at guard. Four different guards saw over 20 minutes of action on the court Tuesday morning.

“That’s the beauty of our team,” Greene said. “When somebody comes out, somebody else can come right in and fill that role.”

Ford and Greene both credited freshman Eric Gaines for holding Kent State together. Despite scoring just six points in 26 minutes, Gaines “did the little things that kept us in the game,” Greene said.

“He was terrific,” Ford continued. “He didn’t really have a whole bunch of stats, but he was flying all over. If it wasn’t for him, we’d have been down 20 at half.”

While Gaines made the high-energy plays, it was sophomore Randal Holt who started in Sherman’s place and turned in two game-changing plays for the Flashes.

With a 52-51 lead with 4:24 left, Holt connected on an off-balance 3-pointer to lengthen Kent State’s lead and send the small crowd at the M.A.C. Center into a frenzy.

His second play might have been even bigger.

With the game tied at 57 and around 30 seconds on the clock, Holt picked up a pass deflected by a Robert Morris defender and calmly nailed another 3-pointer from the wing.

“We tell our guys all the time, usually the team that’s playing the hardest gets those bounces,” Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole said. “The team that’s flying around, the team that’s diving on the floor, the team that’s taking charges, the team that has the energy, all of a sudden the ball bounces and somehow always seems to go into the team playing the hardest’s hands.”

Kent State held on through the final 30 seconds by sinking two free throws to counter Jones’s layup and seal the win.

“If we’re going to play terrible and win, I’ll (play at 8 a.m.) any time,” Ford joked. “We beat a really good team. That team, they’re going to win a bunch of games. You’ll see them in March at the NCAA Tournament again.”

Contact Josh Johnston at [email protected].