Breaking down KSU’s keys to victory in NIT

Cody Francis

Kent State has to find out if it can handle top-seeded Illinois.

The Kent State basketball team is used to success.

The Flashes have qualified for a postseason tournament in 11 of the past 12 seasons, they have 11 20-win seasons in 12 years and they have seniors who were a part of the only nationally ranked team in school history in 2008.

However, the type of success Kent State (24-9) is used to in its regular season has not carried over into the postseason. The Flashes’ victory over Tulsa Wednesday night ended an eight-year postseason losing streak dating back to the team’s Elite 8 loss to Indiana in 2002.

Now that the postseason drought has been broken, Kent State has to find out if it can handle top-seeded Illinois (20-14). Here are three things the Flashes need to do to help their chances of getting their first win against a Big Ten team since 2001:

Get off to a fast start

Kent State has been known as a second-half team all season.

From Rodriquez Sherman’s last-second dunk and game-winning free throw against Western Michigan in January to Sherman’s go-ahead layup with 20 seconds left against Tulsa Wednesday night, the Flashes don’t mind taking each game down to the wire.

But giving up an early lead against a team like Illinois might be too hard even for the Flashes to overcome.

The Flashes need only to look to their Mid-American Conference foe Ohio for advice. In Ohio’s first-round game against Georgetown, the Bobcats came out firing and hit on all cylinders to stun the Hoyas. The Flashes need to put the Fighting Illini on upset alert early in the game.

Spread the ball

With three players averaging more than 10 points per game and another two averaging more than nine, it’s no secret the Flashes like to spread the ball around. In the win against Tulsa, Kent State had six players score in double figures.

However, in the loss against Ohio in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament, only Chris Singletary (19 points), Sherman (12 points) and Anthony Simpson (12 points) scored in double figures for the Flashes. Kent State, which averages nearly 13 assists a game, only passed off seven against the Bobcats.

The team has multiple weapons and must use them all to come out on top tonight.

Avoid forcing shots

When the Flashes get down in a game and lose momentum, they tend to force shots — especially 3-pointers.

If momentum goes the way of the Fighting Illini, Kent State needs to slow the pace of the game to take control instead of feeding the fire by giving the ball right back after a blown play. Tyree Evans and Mike McKee are good outside shooters when they are on, but they both want to take the game into their own hands even if it’s not their night.

If Evans, McKee and the rest of the team’s shooters can play smart basketball and not force shots, especially when the team is down, it will give the Flashes a better chance of taking control of the game.

Contact sports editor Cody Francis at [email protected].