K-S-Phew: Flashes move on to second round

Chris Gates

Kent State storms back from second half deficit and holds off the Huskies

Junior Mike McKee and seniors Al Fisher and Julian Sullinger celebrate following a Northern Illinois missed 3-pointer at the buzzer of yesterday afternoon’s game in Cleveland. The Flashes defeated the Huskies 64-61. Daniel R. Doherty | Daily Kent Stater

WATCH footage from the game.

For the second straight game, senior guard Al Fisher led the Kent State men’s basketball team in scoring. And for the second straight game, contributions from other players were what secured a win for the Flashes.

What’s next for the flashes?

Kent State moves on to play No. 3 seed Buffalo at

2:30 p.m. tomorrow. The Flashes split their season series with the Bulls, winning at home but losing at Buffalo.

The Flashes (19-13, 10-6 MAC) came from behind late in the second half to beat Northern Illinois 64-61 in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament yesterday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

“I thought we were really fortunate to win the game,” Kent State coach Geno Ford said. “I thought our kids hung in there and battled and believed we were going to find a way (to win) in spite of trailing the majority of the game.”

Fisher scored 25 points, 20 of which came in the first half on 8-of-13 shooting, but he and the rest of the team cooled off in the second half. Kent State trailed 56-49 with 6:18 remaining.

But reminiscent of Sunday’s game against Akron, junior guard Mike McKee (nine points) and junior forward Brandon Parks (six) produced for the Flashes when they needed it most.

“It’s funny how you can only have six points and four boards, but I really feel like (Parks) won the game for us,” Ford said. “Those were huge plays where we weren’t scoring. We were struggling in the second half offensively.”

The Flashes shot just 4-of-19 in the opening 13:42 of the second half after being tied 37-37 at halftime. When McKee hit a 3-pointer and closed the gap to 56-52, it seemed to ignite the team.

Senior forward Julian Sullinger scored in the post, then Parks added four points on a tip-in and a right-handed hook shot to tie the game at 58 with 3:53 remaining.

After two free throws from Sullinger, Fisher gave the Flashes their biggest lead on their next possession. He took the ball, spun through the paint and laid the ball off the glass to put Kent State up 62-58.

Mike DiNunno hit a 3-pointer to pull the Huskies to within one, but Fisher hit a mid-range jumper to make the score 64-61 with 1:10 to play.

Northern Illinois failed to score another point, as the Huskies’ desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer went over the backboard.

“Our whole thing in the huddles was, ‘Just stay together,'” McKee said. “No matter what happens, we always preach that – just stay together. We were down six, eight (points) . (but) I don’t think anybody in that huddle thought we were going to lose the game.”

Fisher started the second half by shooting 0-of-9 from the field. He said fatigue might have been a reason why he went through a second-half slump.

“(In the) first half, everything just seemed to be going in,” Fisher said. “I came in to the second half with the same mentality. I’m not sure if I was tired or anything, but everybody on the team contributed and stepped up in the second half.

“I may have been a little tired.”

The Flashes led for just 14 seconds in the first half and were forced to play catch-up for much of the period. Kent State eventually tied the game on an 8-2 run to end the half. The run was capped off by a layup from Fisher with 36 seconds left in the half.

“Of our whole roster, Al was the only guy that played well in his first segment,” Ford said. “If you went man-for-man down our roster, everybody that went in, their first run or their second even, was below average or not what we need from them.”

Kent State will move on to play Buffalo in the second round at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow. The Flashes and Bulls split the regular season series, with each team winning at home. The winner of tomorrow’s game will move on to the MAC Tournament semifinals.

“We’ve played (Buffalo) twice, and they’ve had over 20 offensive rebounds on us both games,” Ford said. “It’s going to be a tough assignment.”

Contact principal sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].