Seniors lead Kent State by example

Deanna Stevens

The Flashes went to Fairfax, Va., took on a team that was coming off a Final Four appearance and fought their way to a 68-62 victory on one of the biggest stages of the season, the O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBuster game.

Led by their only seniors, guards Omni Smith and Armon Gates, the Flashes proved they are a team to consider when filling out the real brackets.

After going scoreless in the first half, Gates hit four 3-pointers and scored 13 second-half points. He took a charge, which was arguably the key stop of the game, with fewer than three minutes left.

That play was more important to him than anything else he did that night, Gates said.

“Defense is the thing that we need to do to win,” he said. “If (the team) sees me do that type of thing then they’ll do the same thing.”

Smith was all over the stat sheet, scoring a game-high 18 points and adding seven rebounds and six assists.

“This is the time of the year where the seniors have to lead us, especially on the road,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “Both those guys did more than just scoring. From getting a rebound, to being in the right place defensively, Armon took a huge charge. That’s what you need. This time of the year, those guys have to step up.”

But the seniors weren’t the only Flashes who came up big.

Sophomore guard Jordan Mincy hit two free throws to give the Flashes a two-possession lead with 17 seconds left. After the Patriots took the lead with a late 12-2 run, Gates and freshman guard Rodriquez Sherman put the Flashes back on top with consecutive 3-pointers.

Sophomore forward/center Julian Sullinger scored 12 points for Kent State, 10 of which came in the first half. Junior forwards Haminn Quaintance and Mike Scott had six points apiece and, as they’ve been all season, were a presence down low.

Kent State returns to Mid-American Conference play at 7 p.m. tonight at home against Buffalo. The Flashes will have the opportunity to prove that, unlike earlier in the season, they can follow up a big performance with a win.

Kent State defeated the Bulls, 69-56, Jan. 10. The Bulls are coming off a 92-84 overtime loss against Detroit in their BracketBuster game.

Christian believes the victory at George Mason could help the Flashes during their final conference road games.

“For us, every win is big,” Christian said. “It was important for us to try to build some momentum as we go on the road. We had to prove to ourselves that we could play well and beat someone on their court.”

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