Kent State fit for Pitt

Sean Joseph

Sophomore forward Mike Scott smiles after making two consecutive free throws during practice yesterday at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit. The Flashes will play tonight at 7:10 p.m. in Detroit against Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Divisi

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Police escorts and a nationally televised game at the Palace of Auburn Hills sets a different stage than the Kent State men’s basketball team is used to, but Kent State coach Jim Christian said the Flashes are ready for tonight’s challenge.

The location of the first-round game against Pittsburgh allowed Kent State to go about its normal road-trip routine. The team bus left Wednesday evening at the same time it would have left to play any Mid-American Conference opponents located in Michigan. The Flashes practiced at the same time, and the 7:10 p.m. tipoff allows them to keep their normal game time.

Not to mention, senior guards DeAndre Haynes and Jay Youngblood, as well as redshirt freshman forward Isaac Knight, are from the Detroit area and have plenty of family and friends attending the game.

“Krauser is a seasoned veteran who understands how to compete,” Christian said. “We’re not good enough to match up one-on-one and win, so we need to step up and guard him as a team.”

The No. 12-seeded Flashes’ last NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament victory came against the No. 5-seed Panthers in the 2002 Sweet Sixteen. Christian was an assistant coach for the Flashes and said Pitt still plays the same physical style of basketball with talented rebounders and guards.

“This isn’t a seven-game series – it’s one game. And we can win one game,” Christian said. “If we played Pitt seven times (in 2002), they probably would have beaten us six. But we beat them that night, and it gives our kids confidence that we have a chance.”

Senior center Nate Gerwig is the only player on either team who played in that game in 2002. But the Flashes will need as big of an upset as in 2002.

“(Upsets) happen every year,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “The thing about Kent State is we know how good they are. We’re close to them. We see them every game. We know some of their players. They beat us three years ago. They’re very good; they’re well coached. It’s a great program. They have had 20 wins in the past eight years. I thought we have done a pretty good job with five straight years in the tournament, but eight straight seasons on 20 wins really speaks for that program.”

The Flashes took the floor to practice at the Palace for the first time yesterday. It was everyone but Youngblood’s first time playing there. He competed there in a summer ball all-star game his freshman year of high school.

“It’s a blessing to have my first NCAA tournament appearance take place in my home town,” Youngblood said. “I grew up watching the Pistons play here while I lived nearby and played in my backyard.”

Haynes, who played all over the Detroit area in middle school and high school, said he is ready to go up against Krauser.

“I expect it to be a great matchup,” Haynes said. “Our team has got great guards. I have to stay out of foul trouble early and take it to him every chance I get.”

As the team prepares to play about three hours away from its home court at Kent State, Christian said the most important thing is to do what they’ve done all year.

“The main thing is you got to have confidence,” Christian said. “You have to go out there and understand you’re a championship team. We don’t need to do anything superhuman. We just need to go out there and play Kent State basketball.”

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