Seniors have one accomplishment left

Sean Joseph

Forget the regular-season Mid-American Conference Championship.

Forget the eighth consecutive 20-win season.

Forget securing the No. 1 seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament.

Forget beating Ohio and Miami at home.

And especially forget what happened Saturday in Akron.

“They’re all just memories now,” senior forward Kevin Warzynski said. “All that matters is we know who plays what style of basketball.”

The Kent State men’s basketball team starts play tomorrow at the Quickens Loans Arena in Cleveland for the MAC Championship Tournament against Buffalo. A run for the championship would mean the first MAC Tournament Championship for three of the four seniors and an NCAA Tournament berth.

“When we beat Ohio and won the regular-season championship, coach Christian was the only person who didn’t get up to cut the net down,” senior center Nate Gerwig said. “He said he wanted the one from the Q, and we want to get that for him.”

The seniors set the MAC Championship as their goal before the season began and hung a sign in their locker room counting down how many games they had to win for the regular-season championship. They figured out how many wins they thought they needed to have the best record in the conference, and they were right – 15.

Senior guard DeAndre Haynes has had a banner a player from the 2001-2002 Elite Eight team gave him that hung up in his bedroom for motivation. Senior guard Jay Youngblood said he clipped out a picture that was in the Daily Kent Stater of his head hanging down after the team lost to Bowling Green because he never wants that to happen again.

“Our emotions are so high right now because every game could be our last,” Youngblood said. “We want to make a championship our last memory and go out on top. We’ve been working so hard it wouldn’t make sense for us to not come home with a championship.”

The Flashes need to be prepared to face any team in the MAC this week, and the seniors said they are relying on their defense to win. At Monday’s practice, Haynes said they focused on a laundry list of defensive principles ranging from double teaming to rotating the perimeter.

“(Monday) in practice we only worked on defense,” Haynes said. “We went back to the basics and worked on our talking and communication on defense that we haven’t done the past two games.”

The team left for Cleveland yesterday feeling a lot better about themselves than they did one year ago. Last year, they lost to Ohio in the second round. Ohio went on to win the tournament.

“There were a lot of issues last year; it was crazy,” Youngblood said. “We were not together as a team. Everyone did their own thing. We definitely feel a lot better this year.”

The Flashes will try to go about their routine preparing for games as normal this week, but the seniors know it’s now or never.

“There comes a time when you know it’s your last run, and you put everything else aside,” Warzynski said. “It’s different when you’re younger because you have time, but it’s time for us to win or we’ll end our careers on a bad note.”

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