Flashes earn one more chance with NIT game

Matt Goul

Jason Edwin’s second chance at a last chance has come.

The lone senior on Kent State’s team went through the nightmare ending last week in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. His chance to lead the Flashes to a MAC title passed as he struggled to score four points in a quarterfinal loss to Ohio.

“We didn’t perform well, and I felt that was going to linger with me when I move on,” Edwin said. “I’m glad it won’t end on that note. We have a chance to put a better stamp on the season.”

The game was not his last — as it could have been. He plays another game tonight when Kent State meets Western Kentucky in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament. The 40-team tournament invites the top teams that do not make it to the NCAA Tournament. The final four play at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Kent State is in the NIT for the third straight season. The last two ended with home losses, a game after losing the MAC Tournament title game. This season was Kent State’s first without an appearance in the title game in five years. It assured the Flashes could do no better than the NIT, but it also gave them their longest layoff before entering it.

“Everyone’s looking at the NIT, as each individual has something to prove,” said Edwin, who blamed himself for not playing the Ohio game as if it was his last. “If you didn’t do what you set out to do before the season, we want to do it in this tournament.”

The Hilltoppers (21-8) have an advantage other than their home court, where they are 14-1 this season. They have former Kent State guard Eric Haut.

A starter his last two seasons at Kent State, Haut is now a graduate assistant at Western Kentucky. His new team finished second in the Sun Belt Conference East Division, like Kent State did in the MAC East, and was eliminated in the semifinals of its conference tournament.

The Hilltoppers are young, too.

Only one senior, 6-foot guard Antonio Haynes, starts and gets significant playing time among their three seniors. The rest of their young lineup includes 6-foot-5 freshman guard Courtney Lee, a starter and second-leading scorer.

Tonight’s game could set up as a prelude for both teams to build into next season. The winner will go to either Houston or Wichita State on Friday night.

“It’ll give us a chance to keep playing,” coach Jim Christian said after the loss to Ohio. “It’ll give Jason Edwin a chance to keep playing. I don’t know about the younger guys, (but) it’s going to be sad to see him go. He’s a valuable part of what we do, and we’re close with him.”

Edwin said he recognizes the NIT can allow his teammates to build toward next season. But there is no more building for Edwin. His teammates recognize that, too.

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