Third straight NIT not the charm

Matt Goul

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — If only there were NBA foul rules to work with.

That way DeAndre Haynes and Kevin Warzynski could have had six fouls to work with instead of five. Both fouled out after helping Kent State (20-13) into overtime of its 88-80 loss to Western Kentucky in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament last night.

Haynes fouled out with 3:44 left in overtime and his team down three points. The Hilltoppers (22-8) took just more than a minute to increase their lead to 10 and seal the win. Warzynski soon fouled out after Haynes, as the game-deciding run continued and ended the Flashes’ season.

The loss came with Jay Youngblood scoring a career-high 29 points.

Youngblood, a junior guard, scored his previous high of 19 at Marshall on Feb. 1. But his new high could not keep Kent State’s season from ending in the opening round of the NIT for the third straight year.

“Everybody wanted to move on to the next round,” Youngblood said. “We were hungry after that loss to Ohio. There was no other tournament we could get in to. It was win or go home.”

This season is different after the first two. Kent State has no championships to show for. It got its seventh straight 20-win season but failed to win the Mid-American Conference East Division for the first time five years.

“It’s real bitter,” Youngblood said. “My first two years of junior college, I never stopped playing this early. I know it’s hurting ’Dre right now because it’s his third season feeling this in a row. I know we’re going to do whatever it takes not to have this feeling again.”

Haynes helped pull Kent State back from a five-point deficit to force overtime. His 3-pointer with 1:39 left in the second half answered a 3 from Western Kentucky’s Antonio Haynes. It shrunk the Hilltoppers’ lead back to two, setting up Kent State’s late scramble to force overtime.

Senior guard Jason Edwin tied the score at 61 with 18 seconds left after batting a cross-court pass to force a turnover. The deflection fell into the hands of Warzynski, who relayed the ball back to Edwin on the transition. Edwin soared to the basket for the tying dunk. Edwin scored 14 points in his last game.

The Hilltoppers’ Haynes broke open an eight-point lead with about eight minutes left in the second half. Kent State had a 31-27 halftime lead slip away when Haynes found freshman Courtney Lee on an alley-oop. The lob capped a 15-4 Western Kentucky run to open the half. Haynes later found Lee again to make the score 50-42.

The Hilltoppers are now 15-1 at home.

Kent State’s Haynes created his own adversity. He picked up his fourth foul with 3:36 left. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

But turnovers hurt Kent State the most. The Flashes committed 28 of them.

“I think we were prepared,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “A lot of them were unforced turnovers — guys traveling or coming off bad screens. Obviously they’re an aggressive team, but you can’t turn the ball over that many times.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Matt Goul at [email protected].