Christian wins 100th in up and down game

Tyler McIntosh

Ball State’s Skip Mills fires off a shot under pressure from Omni Smith (5) WILL VRAGOVIC | BALL STATE DAILY NEWS

Credit: Ron Soltys

Jim Christian’s five years at Kent State seemed to come full circle when he picked up his 100th career win as the men’s basketball coach with a 60-54 win at Ball State yesterday.

First, senior guard Armon Gates, who red-shirted during Christian’s first year as coach, scored 15 first-half points to help give the Flashes (11-8, 4-2 Mid-American Conference) a commanding lead.

Then, it was one of Christian’s latest recruits, freshman guard Rodriquez Sherman, who iced the win by making two second-half foul shots in the closing minutes of play.

“I’m obviously very proud of everyone who has been a part of this program,” Christian said in a post-game interview with Bill Needle, announcer for the Kent State Sports Network. “The sacrifices and the hard work that they put in, you can never thank those people enough. It’s daily work and everybody plays their part. Our assistant coaches never get enough credit for the preparation. Our players never get enough credit for what they go through. I’m just happy for everybody. It’s a great thing for our program.”

Christian is the second coach in Kent State men’s basketball history to achieve 100 wins. However, he said numbers are not what drives him.

“It comes down to the relationship with the kids on the team,” Christian said. “I see how hard they work all the time, in practice, in the weight room and juggling their academics with basketball. When they get a chance to go out and play the game, I just want them to play so hard and so well. That just leads to my intensity.”

Despite playing without sophomore forward Isaac Knight and junior forward Haminn Quaintance, and being on the road — they are just 3-7 away from home — the Flashes jumped out to an early lead.

Sparked by Gates, who finished the half 5-of-7 from the three point range, the Flashes took an 18-8 lead in the first ten minutes and went to halftime with a 10-point lead, 36-26.

But in the second half, Ball State stepped up its game and, in particular, its defense. Kent State shot just 28.6 (6-for-21) percent in the second half.

“Early in the second half, they turned it up a notch and played with a little more intensity,” assistant coach Eric Haut said to Needle. “They were trapping all over the court. They were kind of making it difficult for us to see the plays that coach (Christian) wants us to see.”

The Cardinals would get as close as one point on several occasions. The game came down to something that has been the Flashes’ worst nightmare this season — foul shots.

With little time left, Sherman coolly stepped to the line and sank both of his foul shots to keep it a multi-possession game.

“I missed two earlier in the game, but coach was like, whatever happened after the first 20 minutes is over, so just go up there and knock them down,” Sherman said.

Haut said, “I was so proud of Rod (Sherman). He missed two in the first half and a lot of freshmen could hang their head on that, but (Sherman) is the type of kid who bounced back and made them when they counted.”

Sherman finished the game with seven points. Junior forward Mike Scott had eight rebounds.

Kent State’s next game is at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Northern Illinois.

Contact women’s basket-ball reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected].