Flashes earn victory in intense home opener

Doug Gulasy

With just under 21 seconds remaining in last night’s men’s basketball game, senior forward Mike Scott lifted his arms and raised them up and down several times before stepping to the free-throw line, asking the crowd to get loud.

The fans obliged, getting up and cheering to show their team the same intensity it had shown all game long in a 77-71 victory over Hampton at the M.A.C. Center.

“(Last) night, we came to battle,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “We came to play hard, and we played as hard as we’ve ever played since I’ve been here.”

Every possession was contested. Flashes players dove for loose balls and fought on defense. Kent State forced 24 Hampton turnovers — the Pirates forced the Flashes into 23 of their own.

“We learned a lot from (a season-opening loss at Detroit),” Scott said. “I think we turned it around, and we realized that every possession counts. Down the stretch, it was almost like a MAC game — MAC games are grueling down (at) the end, so we just definitely took every possession. Every possession was very important.”

The intensity even took its toll on some of the players physically. Sophomores Mike McKee and Rodriquez Sherman each limped off the court before returning later.

Scott had the biggest exit and re-entry, leaving with blood on his head and jersey from a cut on his face with about 13 minutes remaining in the second half. He returned to a roar from the crowd with 8:34 left in the game wearing jersey No. 20, not his usual No. 21.

“I was trying to keep the dude (from Hampton) from contesting (junior forward) Rashad (Woods’) shot, and I guess as he was trying to block it, his elbow came down on my head.”

Scott, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds, said the cut required stitches, but he wasn’t sure how many.

After a low-scoring first half (Kent State led 30-19 at the break), the Flashes went on an early 9-0 second-half run, utilizing long-range shooting. McKee sandwiched two 3-pointers around one from Woods to give the Flashes a 41-23 lead.

“Any time you can make 3s, it’s huge,” said McKee, who tied for the team lead with Woods with 16 points. “It takes a little pressure off the defense because (when) you come down (and) you hit big shots, the crowd gets behind you and it just fires you up to play on the other end of the floor.”

The defense, meanwhile, held Hampton to 25 percent shooting in the first half and allowed the Pirates to shoot just 6-of-9 for the game from beyond the 3-point line.

Senior Hampton guard Rashad West came into the game averaging 22.5 points per game. He scored 20 last night, but many came near the end of the game as Hampton tried to come back.

“West is a very good player,” junior guard Jordan Mincy said. “He was a very hard assignment. I was just chasing him to the best of my ability and trying to lock him down.”

Hampton, which Christian called “as big and as athletic” of a team that the Flashes will play this season, made it interesting in the final minutes while utilizing a pressure defense. The Pirates cut the lead to six at 68-62 with just under two minutes remaining, but couldn’t get any closer, as the Flashes shot 7-of-8 from the free-throw line after that point.

“(Last night’s game) is a great test,” Christian said. “We learned a lot about ourselves tonight. We learned that we can compete with good teams.”

The Flashes return to action with a game against Coppin State on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the M.A.C. Center.

Contact men’s basketball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].