Flashes ousted from March Madness

Sean Joseph

Kent State assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer hugs sophomore forward Mike Scott as he cries on the bench during the last minutes of the game to Pittsburgh. Pitt defeated Kent State 79-64 Friday evening in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketb

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

After being outmatched by No. 5 seed Pittsburgh 79-64 in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament Friday, the Kent State men’s basketball team came home earlier than it wanted to, ending its season with an overall record of 25-9.

“We knew what was coming,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “There were two things that we had to do if we wanted to win that just didn’t happen. First, we had to shoot really, really well, and second, we had to catch them on a night when they weren’t shooting well.”

Those roles were reversed as Pitt’s junior center Aaron Gray and sophomore guard Ronald Ramon shot a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor and Kent State’s senior guards DeAndre Haynes and Jay Youngblood shot a combined 5-of-20 from inside the 3-point arc.

Although Pitt was riding high after its win over Kent State, the team fell 72-66 to No. 13-seeded Bradley yesterday.

Senior forward Kevin Warzynski was the only Kent State player to play well in the post. But his team-leading 15 points and 50 percent shooting weren’t quite good enough. Pitt’s size advantage was clear from the very beginning when the 7-foot Gray towered over 6-foot-6-inch sophomore forward Mike Scott at the opening tip.

Kent State’s other big man, 6-foot-9-inch senior center Nate Gerwig – the only player with previous NCAA Tournament experience – exited the game after playing only nine minutes and shooting 1-of-6 from the floor.

Haynes said Pitt’s size was imposing.

“Whenever we tried to do our double-team, like we’ve done all year, they had a seven-footer there who just shot over us,” Haynes said about Gray.

Gray constantly flicked the ball in from just two feet away.

“It was a physical game with shots hitting once we went to the post,” Haynes said. “But we weren’t communicating at the beginning of the game and went down early.”

The Flashes couldn’t survive after the Panthers opened up the second half with a 13-2 run that gave them a 53-27 lead. Kent State was denied any field goals in the first five minutes of the half. At that point, the crowd’s attention and emotions turned more toward the screen that showed other NCAA Tournament scores, especially when Connecticut was down late in the second half.

Junior guard Omni Smith scored all 10 of his points in the second half and helped bring the Flashes to 11 points behind the Panthers, the Flashes’ smallest deficit of the half.

“I was so impressed with Kent State and how they battled back, which we knew they would,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.

Pitt senior guard Carl Krauser said his team followed its gameplan and put the game out of reach early. He and Gray laughed when asked about the Panthers’ size advantage.

“We definitely had an advantage, but they were actually pretty good,” Gray said. “They were constantly sending two or three guys at me, and it was frustrating.”

Christian said he was proud of his team. The Flashes also overcame a 6-5 record at the beginning of the season to win 17-of-20 games, a regular-season MAC Championship and their first MAC Tournament Championship since 2002.

“Our kids fought the entire night,” Christian said. “I’m proud of them. Obviously I wish they could have played better, but we had nine guys on the floor at the NCAA Tournament for the first time.”

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