Flashes head to the Big Dance

Sean Joseph

Team wins first MAC Tournament since 2002

The NCAA Tournament bound Kent State men’s basketball team proudly celebrates its winning of the Mid-American Conference Championship Tournament over Toledo Saturday night at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The 12th-seed Flashes play fifth-seed Pitt

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

When fans stormed the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena after Kent State defeated Toledo 71-66 to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship and the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament Saturday night, senior guard DeAndre Haynes said it was a dream come true.

Despite the Rockets’ three 3-pointers in 30 seconds to make it a three-point game with 21 seconds remaining, fans left their seats in the final minutes and surrounded the court. As the buzzer sounded, the team was mobbed by fans as they ran to center court to claim its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2002.

“I’m so proud of the support our fans showed us tonight and this season,” senior guard Jay Youngblood said. He was named to the All-MAC Tournament Team after the game. “It means a lot for them to come to Cleveland and shows we have loyal fans now. I know we couldn’t have done it without them.”

MAC Tournament MVP honors and a spot on the All-MAC Tournament Team went to senior forward Kevin Warzynski, who brought the Flashes out of an offensive drought Saturday night and also Thursday in the Flashes’ quarterfinal win over Buffalo.

Against the Bulls, Warzynski stopped a 13-0 run in the second half and scored the Flashes’ first field goal in almost eight minutes. Similarly on Saturday, Warzynski stopped a 14-2 run as Toledo threatened to come back.

“This is why I came to this school,” Warzynski said. “When you’re playing in your backyard pretending to go one-on-one with (Michael) Jordan, this is what you dream about.”

President Carol Cartwright cuts down part of the net at the Mid-American Conference tournament on Saturday evening after the Kent State Flashes beat the Toledo Rockets 71-66, sending the Flashes to the NCAA tournament later this week.

MELISSA GAUG | DAILY KENT STATER

Sophomore forward Mike Scott was the third Flash named to the All-MAC Tournament Team, along with Mychal Green from Ohio and Justin Ingram from Toledo. Before the tournament began in Cleveland, the team swept the conference awards – Haynes was named MAC Player of the Year; Kent State coach Jim Christian was named MAC Coach of the Year; Warzynski was named MAC Sixth Man of the Year and Youngblood was named to the All-MAC First Team.

Scott scored the first points of the game with a dunk after a fast break, and Kent State never relinquished the lead to seventh-seeded Toledo.

The Rockets had a 10-8 conference record in the regular season but were not overlooked by the No. 1 seeded Flashes. Toledo had a 10-game winning streak against MAC opponents including two upsets in a row over No. 2 Northern Illinois in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Akron Friday night in the semis.

“This is March basketball, we’re not looking to play pretty,” Christian said. “We look to play tough so we can win and play tomorrow.”

Foul trouble erupted against Ohio, forcing Christian to bench Haynes and senior center Nate Gerwig. But in their absence, freshman point guard Jordan Mincy and Warzynski came off the bench and led the team. Though Mincy only scored two points, teammates like Youngblood congratulated him and said he was nearly flawless leading the team.

The Flashes had four players in double digits in the games against Ohio and Toledo; they had five score at least 10 points against Buffalo. The team is now 15-0 this season when at least four players have scored double-digits, making them a force to reckon with in the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio coach Tim O’Shea said he knew the best team in the MAC beat his team.

“(Kent State) has a chance to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament and represent the MAC very, very well,” O’Shea said. “I’m most impressed with the way they shoot 3s and score on second-chances. I’m not even sure which team is better, this year’s, or the team that went to the Elite Eight.”

Before the tournament began, Kent State had won the regular-season championship, had their eighth consecutive 20-win season and beat every team in the MAC. But they were not satisfied with just that and a loss Saturday would have forced the four seniors to play their last games in the National Invitational Tournament before going their separate ways.

“Before (Saturday’s) game, I told DeAndre (Haynes) that no matter what happened out there, we’re always going to be close,” Christian said. “I told him, ‘You’ve got Jim Christian for the rest of your life.'”

The seniors’ fate will be determined in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“These guys worked so hard,” President Carol Cartwright said. “I’m tremendously proud of the team effort they put out.”

The Flashes will play Pittsburgh Friday in Auburn Hills, Mich.

“We have a lot of hard work to do,” Christian said. “This is just tremendous. It’s a great day.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected]