Flashes prepare for the Dance

Kali Price

The Kent State men’s basketball team is finally achieving its dreams.

The players have dreamed of playing in the upcoming NCAA Division I Men’s Championship Tournament since they were children.

The No. 12 seed Kent State leaves for Auburn Hills, Mich., this evening to prepare for its matchup with No. 5 seed Pittsburgh at 7:10 p.m. Friday night.

“I’ve dreamed about this as a child and all of our dreams are coming true,” junior guard Armon Gates said. “We’re just going to win and keep letting our dreams come true.”

The Flashes gained an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after beating Toledo, 71-66, to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship Saturday. They will be playing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament not far from Detroit, which is home to seniors DeAndre Haynes, Jay Youngblood and redshirt freshman Isaac Knight.

“I’m excited about that,” Gates said. “It’s to our advantage. I’m from Chicago, so I’ve got family coming. And DeAndre (Haynes), Youngblood and (Isaac Knight), those guys are from the Detroit area so they’ve especially got a lot of family coming down. I’m very excited, we’ve got a good fan base.”

The Flashes will be playing at the home of the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

“We’re excited. It’s going to be an exciting game; we’re ready to play,” senior guard DeAndre Haynes said. “It’s going to be great. Me and Youngblood talked about how much of a dream it is for us to be going back home. It’s like we’re on our home court, where the Detroit Pistons play.”

It will be Kent State’s fourth tournament appearance and the first time the team has been to the NCAA Tournament since the 2001-2002 Elite Eight squad. The team has a 4-3 record in the NCAA Tournament, its most recent tournament win over Pitt in 2002. The Flashes beat the Panthers 78-73 in overtime to advance to the Elite Eight that season. Kent State holds the all-time series record at 8-7.

The Flashes have won nine of their last 10 and boast a 25-8 overall record. Pitt’s record is 24-7 overall.

Pitt is making its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament run. Last season, Pitt was knocked out in the first round by Pacific.

Only senior Nate Gerwig has been to the NCAA Tournament before, whereas his teammates have only played in the National Invitation Tournament.

“The NIT is not fun at all,” Gerwig said. “But just because you know there’s no one there, no one wants to be there. The fans don’t want to be there. It probably would’ve been better for us in the upcoming tournament.”

Other than this season and the 1998-1999, 2000-2001 and the 2001-2002 seasons, the Flashes have always participated in the NIT.

But this season is different as the Flashes are giving Kent State coach Jim Christian his first NCAA Tournament appearance as the Flashes’ head coach.

Gerwig, who hails from Pittsburgh, said he wasn’t heavily recruited by Pitt and has had that in the back of his mind.

“They recruited me a little bit,” he said. “They never really offered me what other Pittsburgh schools did. My high school is on their campus. They knew who I was, they knew I was a pretty good high school player. I’m happy to be at Kent State, but I’ll be thinking about that a little bit.”

But Gerwig hasn’t let that affect him and has excelled as one of the Flashes’ senior leaders.

Gates said that under the leadership of the seniors, the Flashes will try to keep making their dreams come true.

“We’ve gotta stay focused,” he said. “Basically everybody’s 0-0. This is a new season. It’s the best time of the year. There’s only 65 teams going for this, so everybody’s staying focused and we’re ready.”

Contact sports editor Kali Price at [email protected].