Kent State dances way to NCAA Tournament berth

Sean Joseph

Freshman forward Isaac Knight and senior center Nate Gerwig celebrate on the basketball court after tonight’s 71-66 win over Toledo to win the MAC Tournament Championship. MELISSA GAUG | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

A 71-66 victory over Toledo gave the Kent State Men’s basketball team a Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship and their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002.

The Flashes accomplished the goal they had been working for all year. Sophomore Mike Scott scored the first points with a dunk, and taking the lead for good was just that easy.

“It provided a little spark,” Scott said. “But this was total team harmony that worked really well.”

After the game senior forward Kevin Warzynksi, who a game-high scored 21 points and made 8-of-9 shots from the field, was named the MVP of the tournament. Warzynski came through for the Flashes when Toledo went on a 14-2 run with five minutes left. He made the team’s first defensive stop in five Toledo offensive series and scored the first Kent State field goal in more than seven minutes.

“This is why I came to this school, this is what I’ve dreamt about,” Warzynski said. “This year’s class was going to be the first group of seniors without a MAC Championship. And none of us were going to let it happen to each other.”

Senior center Nate Gerwig is the only player on the team to have gone to the NCAA tournament, starting in the Elite Eight his freshman year.

“This is awesome. I never knew if I would get to go back to the NCAA Tournament,” Gerwig said. “I wanted so bad for the other guys on the team to be able to have what I had. I’ve seen (senior guard DeAndre Haynes) lose this game twice and I didn’t want to see him go out like that again.”

Kent State was up by as much as 18 with 8:32 left to play before Toledo’s run. After that, the Rockets were able to keep themselves in the game until the last 20 seconds. Toledo drained three 3-pointers in thirty seconds to be down 69-66 with 21 ticks left on the clock. They immediately fouled junior guard Armon Gates who hit both shots from the free-throw line to take the game out of reach.

Opponents, seeds, dates and locations for the NCAA Tournament will be announced Sunday during Selection Sunday. The show will start at 6 p.m. and will be televised on CBS. The Kent State Athletic Department has announced there will be a party celebrating the tournament berth at the Rathskeller tomorrow beginning at 5 p.m.

In the mean time, the Flashes will begin prepping themselves for the big dance, even though they do not know who, when or where they will be playing next.

“I may be crazy,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “But my family is here tonight so I’m going to spend a little time with them, but by midnight I will probably be watching tape of this game.

“You can’t start preparing until you know who you are facing. But the show is on at six and the team will probably meet by eight and start learning everything we can about our next opponent.”

Read Monday’s Daily Kent Stater for more details about the MAC Tournament and the team’s upcoming appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

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