Men’s basketball feeling fatigued after roller-coaster win

Chris Gates

Double-OT victory, two straight long trips leave Flashes with tired legs

Trailing 67-65 with 14 seconds left in regulation at Northern Illinois on Tuesday, junior guard Mike McKee stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to send the game to overtime.

The Game:


MICHIGAN (7-15, 4-6 MAC)

When: 7 p.m. tomorrow

Where: M.A.C. Center

Radio: or WNIR 100.1 FM

Internet: live blog

He looked to his coaches, teammates and even the heavens above for encouragement before taking his first shot. There was nothing left to do but shoot.

“Dear Lord, don’t let me miss these free throws,” McKee said of his thoughts before shooting, with the fate of the game hinging on his performance at the line.

“The thing was, when the kid fouled me after I stole (the ball), it was his fifth foul,” McKee said. “After somebody fouls out you get 30 or 40 seconds to sub somebody in. So I had another 30 seconds to think about it.”

McKee calmed himself, took a deep breath and made both shots, sending the game into overtime. It was just the beginning of the suspense.

Breaking down the game:

Matchup to watch: Kent State’s forwards vs. Central Michigan senior forward Marcus Van. Van averaged 18.5 points per game in the last two games and will attack the weaker part of the Flashes’ defense in the post.

Kent State player to watch: Anthony Simpson (7.4 ppg, 6.5 rebounds per game). Simpson had his second double-double of the year against Northern Illinois with 16 points and 14 rebounds. He will likely see time against Van.

Central Michigan player to watch: Junior guard Jordan Blitzer. Blitzer has been the most consistent scorer for the Chippewas all season, averaging 12.6 points per game.

What happened last time: Kent State won its 20th game of the season and pushed its streak of 20-win seasons to 10 in a row. The Flashes led by just six points at halftime, but outscored the Chippewas by another seven points in the second half for a final score of 79-66.

The Flashes led for most of overtime and earned a 74-71 advantage after junior guard Anthony Simpson hit two free throws with 5 seconds left. Northern Illinois’ freshman guard Mike DiNunno took the inbound pass after Simpsons’ shots and heaved a half-court 3-pointer.

He made it, sending the game to a second overtime.

Play was much more back-and-forth in the second overtime, with the Flashes trailing 82-81 with 40 seconds remaining. Junior guard Tyree Evans went to the line and hit two free throws, which held for an eventual 86-83 Kent State win.

“It was a roller coaster,” McKee said. “Emotionally, it took a lot out of us. We were drained, but that’s what you play basketball for right there. That’s fun.

“As much as it would have hurt (to lose), it was equally as good to win.”

The win extended Kent State’s winning streak to five games and put the team in the position to sweep the Mid-American Conference West Division this season. The Flashes play at home against Central Michigan at 7 p.m. tomorrow with the hopes of completing that task.

Kent State coach Geno Ford said he is most concerned with the team’s fatigue level going into the weekend. The Flashes took a bus to Ball State and back last Saturday, followed by another bus trip to Northern Illinois on Tuesday. Since returning, Ford said practices have been a bit flat. He hopes that will change by Saturday.

“Between (last) Friday and Wednesday at 6 a.m., we spent over 24 hours on a bus in a four-day time period,” Ford said. “So guys are sore.

“That’s our two longest trips in the year. To have them back-to-back like that is tough.”

Ford said the Flashes need to regroup and reach the same level of toughness they played with in the last five games. The Chippewas run a slow, methodical offense and grind out most of their possessions. Their style tends to wear on opponents as the game progresses.

“It’s just a toughness game, to be honest,” Ford said. “They’ve always been one of the tougher teams in our league, physically and mentally.”

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