Flashes’ faith wins game

Sean Joseph

Senior DeAndre Haynes embraces Kent State assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer after Kent State beat Butler Saturday afternoon at the M.A.C. Center. Haynes pushed the game into overtime after shooting a 3-pointer with six seconds left in regulation. Kent St

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

When Butler’s lead increased to eight points with just less than four and a half minutes to play in the second half Saturday afternoon at the M.A.C. Center, Kent State men’s basketball coach Jim Christian said the guys on his team were the only people in the arena who knew they wouldn’t lose.

The Flashes’ senior leadership stepped in to make the comeback, assaulting the Bulldogs (17-10) with a 9-2 run, which included two free throws by guard DeAndre Haynes, a three pointer by guard Jay Youngblood and a layup by forward Kevin Warzynski.

Sophomore forward Mike Scott, who recorded his first career double-double, put in a deuce narrowing Butler’s lead to 59-60 with 2:20 left to play.

The Bulldogs answered with another four points to put them up by five with 1:05 remaining, and the Flashes (19-7, 12-2 Mid-American Conference) started sending them to the free-throw line.

“Everyone in the arena thought we were going to lose,” Christian said. “But these kids didn’t, and they found a way to win.”

A foul by junior guard Omni Smith with 11 seconds on the clock put Butler guard A.J. Graves at the free-throw line. Two easy shots put Butler up 69-66, but all Kent State needed was one more possession. With six seconds left, Haynes pulled the trigger from 3-point range and hit what Christian called the most beautiful shot he has ever seen, sending the game into overtime.

“I was thinking about it going in and changed the original play coach called because I had seen something by their defense before that I was hoping to see again,” Haynes said. “I knew they would put their big guy on me, and I knew he was coming back for the shot. I stepped back, pulled it and it went in for me and the team.”

In overtime, the Flashes’ problems with Butler forward Brandon Polk, who scored 21 points in regulation, went away. Polk, guarded by Scott, went 0-of-2 shooting in overtime and committed a turnover.

“Mike (Scott) was tremendous rebounding and blocking shots. We tried to put three or four guys on Polk, and he was the only guy that could guard him,” Christian said. “Last year, Mike didn’t play more than three or four minutes at a time without coming out just completely exhausted; it’s a tremendous improvement.”

Saturday, Scott played 43 minutes and led the team with 14 rebounds. He also scored a career-high 17 points.

The Flashes were coming off a 111-107 double-overtime victory at Buffalo Wednesday night. The last time Kent State played back-to-back games that went into overtime was Feb. 8 and 11, 1961.

“No team lost today; we just ran out of time,” Christian said. “If we played another two minutes, the score probably would have tied again.”

Youngblood led all scorers with 25 points, going 8-of-10 from the field, hitting 3-of-3 3-point attempts and was 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.

Haynes added another accolade to his career list and became Kent State’s all time career-assists leader, recording five of his 596 Saturday.

“Everyday when you wake up, you live to play games like this,” Haynes said.

It was the second game in a row the Flashes had been trailing at the five-minute mark and won, something they had not done before Wednesday’s game at Buffalo.

“We want to be playing on top though, so we need to stop doing that because we’re scaring a lot of people,” Haynes said.

Butler played on Saturday for the fourth time in eight days and Butler coach Todd Lickliter said facing Kent State on a short turnaround was a determining factor in their loss.

Kent State has just three remaining games in its regular-season schedule, all against MAC East Division foes. On Tuesday, the Flashes play at Bowling Green, against the only MAC team they have not beaten this season. Tuesday’s game will give the Flashes a shot at their eighth consecutive 20-win season.

“BG poses a heck of a challenge. At home they’re a great team, and for some reason they play well every time they play us,” Christian said. “I coach for these kinds of games. You’re not going to remember the games you win by 40 as much as this. These guys are competing so well. People have to remember that this team was 7-5 at the beginning of the season. Anybody associated with Kent State should be proud.”

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