Men’s basketball prepares for rematch

Chris Gates

After three games in four days – all on the road and all losses – the schedule will not get easier for the Kent State men’s basketball team as they play St. Mary’s at 7 p.m tonight in the M.A.C. Center.

Last year, the Flashes played at the Gaels’ home court and won, vaulting them into the Top 25 for the first time in school history. A win tonight could provide just as big of a lift to the Flashes, even though it won’t push them into the national spotlight.

Kent State coach Geno Ford said, despite the team’s three consecutive losses, there is no lack of confidence among the players.

“Our guys have lost games before,” Ford said. “The reality (is) if you can’t handle getting knocked down once in a while then you’re not very good anyway.

“We’ll find out how tough we are (tonight).”

The Game:

KENT STATE (3-3) vs. ST. MARY’S (5-1)

Where: M.A.C. Center

When: 7 p.m. today

Radio: WNIR 100.1 FM,

Internet: live blog (begins at 6:45 p.m.)

He also noted that this game should be quite different than last year’s. The leading concern for the Flashes, Ford said, will be St. Mary’s junior center, Omar Samhan.

Samhan, 6-feet-11-inches tall, scored “easily” in his first two possessions of last year’s game while being defended by last season’s Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Haminn Quaintance. However, Samhan dislocated his shoulder shortly after, and the Flashes were able to take advantage of the void.

Kent State will have no such advantage this year, along with less experience down low. Samhan and senior forward Diamon Simpson, who scored 24 points against the Flashes last year, figure to give Kent State matchup issues.

“We played them really a man down a year ago,” Ford said.”That could have been a very different game if they have him.

“We’re as concerned about guarding Simpson and Samhan as we are (Patrick) Mills. They’re all three good players.”

Mills is the Gaels’ leading scorer, averaging 19 points per game. He had a busy summer, competing for the Australian Olympic team and posting 20 points against Team USA.

Back for his sophomore season, Mills leads a deep corps of guards.

Despite the depth and experience, the Flashes believe they can cause problems for St. Mary’s as well.

Kent State is used to playing against tough competition by now as well as a size disadvantage. In the past three games, the Flashes lost to Illinois, Texas A&M and Kansas. With slim losses against the Illini and Aggies, the team has new confidence that it can keep close with teams from the power conferences.

“I think it gives us a little bit of confidence,” senior forward Julian Sullinger said. “Both of those games, (in) the last maybe three (or) four minutes, we were up in those games.

“It kind of helps us out with our focus.”

He also said the team’s focus is not skewed by the losses. After the team beat UNC Wilmington for its third win of the season, Sullinger said he really had no idea who was next on the schedule because he was so concentrated on the opponent that day.

That remains the same.

“We’re focused for tomorrow,” he said. “We know that this is a good team, another good team.

“We’re (not going to) focus on the three losses, but at the same time not focus on the three wins we had too.”

There’s no lack of motivation either, Ford said.

“If, at any point, we have to worry about keeping the guys up, then we have a bad team,” Ford said. “We’ve won enough games around here… You have to have a collective level of toughness as a group to where you expect to win every time out.”

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].