Flashes play for East redemption

Chris Gates

The first time the Kent State men’s basketball team went through the Mid-American Conference’s East Division, the team struggled.

The Flashes went 1-4, losing three games by 10 points or more and falling to last place in the MAC East. Since then, the team has won six straight and will get another shot at the East, starting tonight at home against Ohio.

Both teams opened the conference schedule against each other Jan. 11, with Ohio holding off a late Kent State comeback attempt and winning 71-65.

Since that time, the players and coaches alike notice differences in the team’s play. The leading factor to that change is defense.

INFOBOX BREAKDOWN Kent State (14-11, 7-4 Mid-American Conference) vs. Ohio (13-11, 6-5 MAC)

Where: M.A.C. Center

When: 7:30 p.m.

Radio: WNIR 100.1 FM or


Online: www.KentNewsNet.com (live blog)

&bull Matchup to watch: Ohio’s Jerome Tillman vs. junior forward Anthony Simpson. In the first meeting, Simpson only played six minutes while Tillman dominated the paint against Julian Sullinger and Brandon Parks. Simpson has become a much bigger part of Kent State’s game plan since.

&bull Kent State player to watch: It’s actually more like players, as the “Big Three” will have to have a big game. Al Fisher, Chris Singletary and Tyree Evans combined for 53 of the Flashes’ 65 points in the first meeting between these two teams.

&bull Ohio player to watch: Tillman. Ever since he got to Ohio, Tillman has been a force down low. He is averaging 18.9 points a game so far this season and will cause a big problem for Kent State in the paint both offensively and defensively.

&bull Last time they met: Ohio beat Kent State 71-65 Jan. 11 in Athens. Kent State got off to a good start and even held a 30-26 halftime lead. However, the Bobcats hit too many shots down the stretch and held off a late Kent State run to win.

“We’ve defended better,” coach Geno Ford said. “We’ve been more consistent with our approach to defense. We’re working hard, and we’re more focused on not giving up points.”

Ford said every win and loss taught the Flashes a little more about what kind of basketball they need to play in order to be successful. Part of that came from what the Flashes saw from Ohio in early January.

“They play 40 minutes of basketball,” senior forward Julian Sullinger said. “That was our first MAC regular-season game, and I think as a team we really didn’t understand what it takes to win in the MAC conference.

“Our confidence level is a little bit higher (now) than usual. Before, we were going back and forth – winning a couple games, losing a couple games. Now we’ve got this streak going.”

To continue their winning streak, which now is at six games, the Flashes will have to find a way to contain Ohio senior forward Jerome Tillman. Tillman scored 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds in the first meeting this year, while Kent State’s forwards combined to score just 10 points in that same game.

“We’ve got to do a better job of accepting the challenge on Jerome Tillman,” Ford said. “He beat us basically by himself.”

Ford has been worried lately about how his team will respond because of the amount of travel it has had to deal with. That worry has not diminished, as the Flashes had just two days of rest after beating Central Michigan 61-57 on Saturday.

“We’re not very bouncy right now, and I hope it comes back,” Ford said. “We looked bad last week, physically, in both games.

“We’re a team that’s not super big and super athletic, so if we don’t have our quickness, we’re really in trouble.”

If they win over Ohio, the Flashes would break out of a current three-way tie for third place in the MAC East. It would be the first seven-game winning streak for a Kent State squad in conference play since the 2005-06 season.

“We’re a better basketball team now than we were in early January,” Ford said. “Hopefully we can just keep playing well.”

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