Live from Chapel Hill, it’s Kent State

Jeff Russ

If you watched it live on ESPN, listened to it on the radio or saw highlights on SportsCenter, you are aware that Kent State fell to number-one ranked North Carolina 90-61 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday night.

The score looks bad, but this team has nothing to be ashamed of.

Nobody wants to lose by 29, but one person this team did impress was North Carolina coach Roy Williams.

“This is a real good team,” he said. “I think (Kent State coach Jim Christian) does a really good job with this team. Their style of play is difficult to play against, you’ve got a lot of guys to chase out there.”

It got interesting near halftime. Senior forward Mike Scott had a slam dunk that cut the Carolina lead down to nine, but North Carolina sophomore guard Wayne Ellington hit a 30 foot 3-pointer as the halftime buzzer went off that gave the Tar Heels a 12-point lead at the half. In Christian’s mind, that was the turning point.

“It was a big momentum play going into the second half,” he said. “We had a chance to cut the lead to seven and missed a shot and they went down the floor and made the shot.”

No matter what the score was, tonight on national television and in front of 20,356 fans in Carolina blue, the team showed the audience what Kent State basketball is.

It didn’t matter what it said on the scoreboard, the Flashes were on the floor, grabbing the ball, running the offense and playing defense like it is a two-point game.

“That’s how we play,” Christian said. “If they don’t make those plays I’d be a little more disappointed. These guys have been around for so long they know what we expect. That’s Kent State basketball.”

The little things were not working in Kent State’s favor either. The Golden Flashes came into the game with the second best turnover margin in the Mid-American Conference at plus 3, but committed 19 turnovers, including multiple traveling violations, something very unusual for this team.

“We did make some careless turnovers tonight,” Christian said. “We had five travels in the first half, and we haven’t had five travels all season. That’s uncharacteristic of our team.”

I know hindsight is 20/20, but take away the turnovers and this isn’t a blowout. Who knows? Maybe we play them close and it doesn’t look as bad on television the next morning, but the Flashes impressed the audience and never gave up.

“There wasn’t one timeout we came to the huddle where guys weren’t communicating and trying to keep fighting,” Christian said.

Sunday the team hosts 6-6 Buffalo in the first conference game of the season. It will be different than Wednesday’s game. Instead of 20,000 fans in Carolina blue it will be around 3,000 people at the M.A.C. Center in the blue and gold. The MAC averages about 2,700 fans a game, and the Flashes played in an arena with almost ten times that, not to mention the legend of North Carolina’s past stars, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and Rasheed Wallace to name a few, hanging over their heads. And after the game, getting back on track and picking up where it left off before North Carolina was on the team’s mind.

“They are the number one team in the country for a reason,” Mike Scott said. “We have to take the positives from this and build on it. We’re 10-3, (Haminn Quaintance) is playing great. I think the way these guys played they are going to come back really hungry Sunday.”

And I think they will. The Flashes handled themselves well in a tough environment in front of a hostile crowd, the likes of which the team will not see again this season. Haminn Quaintance scored 20 points against All-American forward Tyler Hansbrough. But Wednesday’s loss to the number-one team in country will prepare this team for a difficult MAC schedule. So far this season in the East Division, every team except 5-6 Bowling Green has a winning record, so every game will be as big as Wednesday’s as the team goes for its goal of another MAC Championship and a birth in the NCAA tournament.

Contact sports editor Jeff Russ at [email protected]