Flashes shine in the golden state

Doug Gulasy

The Flashes beat No. 20 St. Mary’s 65-57 Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif., as part of the O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters.

For the first time in program history, the Flashes beat a nationally ranked program during the regular season; they had been 0-36. They did it by overcoming a nine-point deficit in the second half to a team that had a 14-0 record at home this season.

“It was exactly how we thought it was going to be: a fight to the end,” junior guard Al Fisher said. “We just had to keep playing. We knew they were going to make runs and we were going to make runs. We just had to come back. We couldn’t dwell on the runs; we just had to make ours.”

This victory was possibly the biggest regular season win in Kent State history because it came over a nationally ranked team — one that had defeated Drake, Oregon and Gonzaga &madsh; on national television.

It also puts the Flashes (23-5, 11-2 Mid-American Conference) into serious contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“It was a great opportunity for us to step up and solidify our season a little bit,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “But again, our whole goal is to win the MAC Conference.”

For a while, it didn’t seem like the Flashes would leave the West Coast with a victory. They led by as many as seven points in the first half, but St. Mary’s went on a 17-2 run that carried over into the second half to take the lead.

The Flashes trailed for most of the second half, not leading until 4:29 remained. Their 11-2 run in the final four minutes sealed the victory.

“Basketball is a game full of runs,” Fisher said. “We just knew we had to take their punch and come back and give ours.”

Fisher provided several of those blows. He tied his career high with 28 points, 16 in the second half. With exactly one minute remaining, Fisher provided the knockout punch.

He drove into the lane, just as he had done seemingly hundreds of times all night. He switched the ball from his left to his right hand and put up a circus layup attempt. It went in.

St. Mary’s never made it a one-possession game again. Many of the Gaels’ 3,500 fans, who were extremely loud while their team led, filed out before the final buzzer sounded.

“(Fisher) made some plays down the stretch, some finishes, that are just tremendous plays,” Christian said. “Players step up in big games, and he stepped up tonight without question.”

Senior forward Haminn Quaintance also made a big impact at the end of the game. Quaintance played the final five minutes with four fouls, and he shut out St. Mary’s forward Diamon Simpson in that span. Prior to that, Simpson had scored 24 points.

The team defense also stifled the Gaels’ leading scorer this season, freshman guard Patrick Mills. Mills scored just five points on 2-of-12 shooting, more than 10 points below his season average.

Junior guard Jordan Mincy guarded Mills for the majority of the game, but others had a hand in limiting him.

With the Flashes up 60-55, Mills had the ball and seemingly a mismatch against Quaintance.

Mills drove past Quaintance, tried to put up a layup, but Quaintance swatted the shot from behind and recovered the loose ball.

“Patrick Mills is, I think, as good a freshman guard as I’ve seen in my 20 years in this business,” Christian said. “We knew that was a big key coming in.

“We had to do our best to try to keep him out of the lane because when he gets in there, he makes a lot of guys better. . It’s not easy to do for 40 minutes with him, so I take my hat off to our team.”

Simpson led St. Mary’s with 24 points and 15 rebounds. Senior forwards Quaintance (11 points) and Mike Scott (10) joined Fisher as Flashes in double figures.

Saturday’s victory may have been a huge one for the Flashes for many reasons, but they still have three MAC games remaining in the regular season, beginning Saturday at Bowling Green.

“We’re going to go game by game,” Fisher said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You can win on any given day.”


Game notes

Al Fisher as a leader

Junior guard Al Fisher reached the 20-point mark for the third time in four games by scoring 28 points Saturday. In his first year with the Kent State program, Fisher seems to be developing into a leader. “We do have a lot of leaders,” Fisher said. “(Senior forward) Mike Scott is a great leader, (senior forward Haminn Quaintance) is a great leader. Everybody’s a leader in their own way. I just try to lead by example and just help the team in any way I can.”

On the map?

With Saturday’s victory, the Flashes’ Ratings Percentage Index ranking moved up to 30, and they might receive more votes in national polls this week. “A lot of people say we don’t get as much (recognition) as we should,” Fisher said. “We just came in here and got a quality win over a top-25 team, and hopefully that will put us on the map.”

Banner day for MAC

The Mid-American Conference doesn’t normally get a lot of publicity, but MAC teams went 6-5 in Saturday’s BracketBuster games, highlighted by the Flashes’ victory. “I think our league is a little bit better than people think,” Christian said. “There’s some really good basketball teams in the Mid-American Conference. And I think we proved that today; if you watched the games, our teams did fairly well.”

Contact sports reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].