Flashes head to the Big Dance

Kali Price

Kent State to play Pitt in NCAA first round

From left: Junior Omni Smith, assistant coaches Josh Oppenheimer and Arnette Jordan and senior Kevin Warzynski react to the announcement of Kent State’s No. 12 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Melissa Gaug | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

As the words “Kent State” appeared on the projection screen of CBS’ “NCAA Basketball Championship Selection Show,” Jay Youngblood jumped up and screamed, “I’m going home!”

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little.”

The senior guard from Detroit joined his team yesterday at the Rathskeller as they celebrated Kent State men’s basketball team’s Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship and watched the bracket announcements.

The Flashes were given the No. 12 seed in the Oakland bracket. They play No. 5-seeded Pittsburgh Friday in Auburn Hills, Mich. at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

“This is the best thing ever,” Youngblood said. “I think we’ve got a home-court advantage on this one. We’re going to try to play hard. Everybody will know us now.”

Along with Youngblood, senior DeAndre Haynes and redshirt freshman Isaac Knight are from Detroit as well.

“We gotta play our butts off for them,” junior guard Armon Gates said.

Pitt (24-7, 10-6 Big East) received an at-large bid to the tournament after losing the Big East Championship to Syracuse 65-61 Saturday.

“I know they’re big and physical,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “We’ve gotta be ready to play hard. We have to go out and compete as hard as we can.”

It is the first time Kent State has received a tournament bid since 2002. Kent State has had three previous tournament appearances.

“I’m excited for these guys,” Christian said. “Especially the seniors who haven’t been there yet. They’ll cherish these memories for the rest of their lives.”

Only senior center guard Nate Gerwig has been to the NCAA Tournament before. Gerwig was a freshman during the 2001-2002 season when the Flashes advanced to the Elite Eight and were bounced out by Indiana.

Kent State beat Pitt in overtime during the Flashes’ 2002 tournament run to advance to the Elite Eight.

“It’s hard to compare (the two teams),” Christian said. “(The 2002) team will be compared to every team that comes through Kent State. These guys have the chance to be as special and be compared to them someday.”

Pitt’s bid is its fifth consecutive invitation to the tournament. The team has made 17 previous tournament appearances.

“We’re just going to play our game and get it done,” Haynes said. “They’re a great team.”

Haynes said he is most excited about the game’s location, which is not far from his hometown.

“We’ve got a home advantage,” he said. “This is a good night. I’m still in shock. We’re going home. We’re just going to play our game and get it done.”

Game times will be announced today and Kent State’s ticket allotment is yet to be announced by the Palace.

The Palace is about 35 minutes north of Detroit.

“I’m happy for those guys to go somewhere that’s close to home,” senior forward Kevin Warzynski said. “It’s going to be fun.”

Contact sports editor Kali Price at [email protected]