Flashes looking to win 20th

Deanna Stevens

With an opportunity to earn its ninth consecutive 20-win season, the Kent State men’s basketball team (19-9, 11-3 Mid-American Conference) travels to Bowling Green to take on the Falcons tonight.

The match-up comes after a last-second Flashes’ victory over Ohio last Saturday and will be the second consecutive opponent that Kent State narrowly defeated earlier in the season.

On Jan. 20, Kent State’s 62-61 victory over Bowling Green started a six-game winning streak and debuted a new starting lineup for the Flashes, with senior guards Omni Smith and Armon Gates coming off the bench. Smith and Gates combined for 27 of the team’s 39 bench points that night.

“We’ve got to be ready to play,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “It was a great game here. It came down to the last 40 seconds, so they know they can play. And they probably left here thinking they should have beaten us. So they’re going to be hungry.”

In the previous game, Falcons guard Martin Samarco scored a game-high 26 points. The senior is no stranger to being the high scorer, averaging 18.4 points per game, which is good enough for third in the MAC.

“He’s capable of getting 40,” Christian said. “We’re going to guard him as best we can and try to keep fresh guys on Samarco as best we can.”

Christian added that the Flashes cannot focus on Samarco and forget about the rest of the team.

“(Junior guard) Ryne Hamblet has really started to play well for them,” Christian said. “And (sophomore forward) Nate Miller, he’s a load to handle. They’re playing in front of their home crowd. Everyone is trying to build momentum for the tournament, and they’re no different. It’s going to be a tough challenge, just like it is every time you go on the road.”

The Falcons (12-16, 2-12 MAC), who have lost five of the last six games, last won Feb. 17 in their O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBuster game against Morehead State, 90-72.

Kent State has won 10 of its last 11, including the dramatic 73-71 victory at Ohio. But Christian said the high from that game is over.

“There is no hangover,” Christian said. “There are two games left to play. Hopefully, at this point of the year, we understand what’s on the line, and we come out and compete.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].