Men’s basketball turning the corner

Jonas Fortune

Bench the seniors!? Is Kent State coach Jim Christian nuts? He must have forgetten that Omni Smith scored 33 points at Duke. Yeah, Smith scorched them in front of the Cameron Crazies. Why would Christian ever think of sitting him, as well as the team’s best pure shooter, Armon Gates?

Christian must be crazy.

Or maybe a decision like this would send the Flashes on a six-game winning streak. Maybe Christian’s decision would allow a tenacious defense to be born and just maybe it would allow those “benched” seniors an opportunity to score even more.

That’s right. That’s exactly what it did.

The team has undergone a transformation that involves placing two sophomores and two freshmen into the starting lineup to go along with junior forward Mike Scott.

Since sophomores Julian Sullinger and Jordan Mincy were placed into the starting lineup alongside true freshmen Chris Singletary and Rodriquez Sherman, the defense has been dominant. Toledo scored 60 last night, but the Flashes held their three previous opponents under 50 points, a feat Kent State hadn’t accomplished since 1948.

In fact, since the lineup’s induction six games ago, the Flashes are holding opponents to 53 points per game. Considering teams averaged 64 points in the previous 17 contests, this mark looks even more impressive.

“Every team has a different formula,” Christian said after beating Central Michigan last week. “We’re not going to outscore anybody; we’re not going to kid ourselves.”

But Christian’s new game plan hasn’t hurt scoring much either.

“I don’t care who starts the game. I think that’s the most overrated thing in basketball,” Christian said. “You want to get guys in at key times.”

It’s a concept his two senior captains, Smith and Gates, have bought into. Their removal from the starting lineup was never about their abilities; they are more useful when coming off the bench. One look at the stat sheet shows that their minutes have barely decreased.

“When we go to our bench, we are coming in with guys who are experienced, guys who can score,” Christian said. “That’s how we go on runs.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Sullinger has solidified the post position. Since becoming a starter, he is averaging 11.5 points and almost five rebounds a game.

Last night at the M.A.C. Center, you could feel the energy oozing from the team and the crowd. The place was electric.

The Flashes not only won their sixth straight, they beat the Mid-American Conference West division leader, and they are starting to look like one of the conference’s premier teams.

Ther defense stymied Toledo, and the Flashes made few mistake, committing only nine turnovers. In what seemed to be a rebuilding year just a few weeks ago, Kent State now seems to have turned the corner. The rest of the MAC better look out.

Contact assistant sports editor Jonas Fortune at [email protected].