Doug Gulasy

Flashes’ opening round loss belies successful season

Sophomore forward Chris Singletary struggles to find an open shot in the Flashes’ 71-58 loss to UNLV at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb. Brian Marks | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

OMAHA, NEB. — The Kent State men’s basketball team became the Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament in 2002 with an unexpected run to the Elite Eight.

This year’s team, on the other hand, probably felt more like the ugly stepsisters.

“We wanted to do something, make some noise in the tournament,” senior forward Haminn Quaintance said. “We didn’t. But at the same time I don’t feel like that took away from anything that we had done before this previously.”

The Flashes (28-7) came to the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb., for their NCAA Tournament opener Thursday as champions of the Mid-American Conference. They left with a 71-58 loss in which even their strengths became weaknesses.

“I don’t think anybody was scared or had any fear (of playing a tournament game),” Quaintance said. “It’s just we didn’t do what – we didn’t do what we have done all year to get here, you know?”

The Flashes came into the game 28-6 because of a stingy defense and an efficient, opportunistic offense, but both of those team strengths deserted them against UNLV.

The Rebels pressured Kent State, causing 17 Kent State turnovers and allowing just 10 points in the first half. But even when the Flashes had easy chances to score, they missed shots.

“We were just making bad decisions with the basketball,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “And what happens is it just snowballs, and we were making poor decision after poor decision, kind of snowballed.

“Not taking anything away from (UNLV); they’re a great defensive team. We knew that coming in. (But) when you’re turning the ball over and then you’re missing shots, it’s a bad combination. It just starts to spread.”

The offense improved in the second half, but this time the defense didn’t come through.

“When we picked up offensively we kind of let down defensively a little bit and started trading buckets with them,” Quaintance said. “You can’t afford to trade buckets when you’re down 20-some points.”

All the while, players could do nothing but look at the scoreboard and their double-digit deficit in disbelief as the seconds ticked away on what Christian called a phenomenal season.

“I just hope that people really appreciate the year that they’ve had, all they’ve accomplished and not dwell on this one game,” Christian said. “Those kids — anybody who does that should go into that locker room and take a look at their face and see how they feel because these kids have had an unbelievable year.”

Behind senior leaders Mike Scott and Quaintance, the Flashes had had the second-most wins in program history with 28. A win at then nationally ranked St. Mary’s in February gave the Flashes their first regular-season win over a ranked opponent. Two days later, the Flashes were ranked during the regular season for the first time in team history.

The team went undefeated at home and won the Mid-American Conference regular season championship, then won three games in three days to win the MAC Tournament.

All along, Scott and Quaintance had several goals they wanted the team to achieve this season, including winning the MAC championship.

“It would be hard to talk about those two guys,” Christian said. “They’re so special to me. They’re so special to this program. They’re probably two of the most unselfish guys I’ve ever coached.”

After the Flashes beat Akron 74-55 in the championship game of the MAC Tournament, Scott outlined the team’s next goal: winning the NCAA Tournament opener.

That didn’t happen. But after the game, Christian and his players said that the loss shouldn’t define the team’s season.

“We deserved to be here,” junior guard Al Fisher said. “It’s kind of sad that things didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to. But things happen that way sometimes, you know? But we had a great team, and everyone loved playing with each other.”

Contact sports reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].