Flashes still hungry for win

Amanda Vasil

Freshman Julian Sullinger, junior Armon Gates, senior Nate Gerwig and junior Omni Smith celebrate the Flashes’ 2006 regular season Mid-American Conference Championship with the team’s banner after they beat Ohio Feb. 28. AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Just because the Kent State men’s basketball team was picked to finish third in the Mid-American Conference East Division doesn’t mean that’s how it hoped to finish.

But with a MAC East and MAC regular-season crown, thrown in with its eighth 20-win season, the Flashes still aren’t completely satisfied, said assistant coach Rob Senderoff.

“Every year we go into the regular season hoping we can win the MAC Championship, hoping that we can win 20 games, hoping we can go into the NCAA tournament and see how things fall,” he said.

“As of right now, I don’t think our kids feel as if they’re done accomplishing what they set out to accomplish because the ultimate goal is to play in the NCAA tournament, and (senior center) Nate Gerwig is the only kid on the team who has done that. I think that we’re still really hungry going into (the Quicken Loans Arena).”

The Flashes went into the MAC season with a 6-5 record and a two-game losing streak and came out with a 22-8 overall, 15-3 MAC record and six-game winning streak, minus the loss to Akron Saturday.

The team’s 15 MAC wins ranks No. 2 in Kent State school history, and the season marks only the second time the team has clinched the MAC conference title. So while the team is still pursuing a win at the MAC Tournament which starts tomorrow, Senderoff said it can’t disregard its accomplishments.

“Those are things that can never be taken away from these guys regardless of how we do in Cleveland,” he said. “We expect to win, and we’re going to do everything we can to win those three games up there, but I don’t think it can be slighted that this is only the second time in school history that Kent State has won the overall MAC Championship.”

The Flashes began the season healthy and ready to begin MAC play, but in a road trip to California during winter break, Gerwig sprained his medial collateral ligament in practice, causing the team to rethink its defensive strategy.

Rather than playing Gerwig and fellow senior forward Kevin Warzynski together, sophomore forward Mike Scott stepped in to pick up the slack.

“Because of Mike’s strengths and weaknesses as a player, we started doubling the post every time it got thrown in there, and what it’s done is allowed us to turn teams over and create an offense off of our defense,” Senderoff said. “Now it’s one of our staples and one of our strengths, defensively.”

Scott is a player who emerged as a strong athlete throughout the season. Scott, who averages 23.7 minutes per game and leads the team defensively, began his college career only averaging 8.2 minutes per game.

“When Mike started out here last year, he could barely play two or three minutes at a time without being physically exhausted,” Senderoff said, “and now he’s a guy that we feel is one of the key guys for our defense. He spearheads everything we do. There are times when we don’t think we can take him off the court now.”

Another valuable player and leader this season was found in senior guard DeAndre Haynes. In the beginning of the season, Haynes said he was excited to begin MAC play but even more excited to lead the team to the NCAA Tournament. Now, almost four months later, Haynes, along with fellow seniors Gerwig, Warzynski and Jay Youngblood, has almost achieved that goal.

Haynes was named MAC East Player of Week Feb. 27 after averaging 15.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists combined against Bowling Green and Miami. He has emerged as the team’s leader throughout the season, which has not gone unnoticed by Kent State coach Jim Christian.

“I know that coach Christian said a couple times he feels DeAndre is the best leader he’s had in the four years he’s been here,” Senderoff said. “That really says a lot about DeAndre because we’ve had some great kids and for (Christian) to say that about him is pretty meaningful.”

With Miami and Akron playing well all year, they will be teams to beat, but the team tries to think of wins as “one-game winning streaks” and only looks ahead to the next game.

“Ohio won the MAC Championship last year, and they brought everyone back so they were the team to beat,” Senderoff said. “But the way we look at it is trying to take care of our own business and being able to play well. So as long as we continue doing that, things will take care of themselves.”

Contact assistant sports editor Amanda Vasil at [email protected]