Flashes extend MAC record, 6-0

Sean Joseph

The Huskies were just another victim of mid-season hot Flashes.

The Kent State men’s basketball team now has a six-game winning streak and is tied with Akron for first place in the Mid-American Conference.

Senior guard Jay Youngblood, who scored a season-high 27 points, led the Flashes (12-5, 6-0 MAC) to a 72-61 victory over MAC West Division leader Northern Illinois (9-6, 4-3 MAC) Saturday afternoon. The win extended the Flashes’ perfect conference record to 6-0 for the first time in school history.

The Flashes dominated defensively, holding the Huskies to nine points below their season average. In the first half, Kent State had nine steals and held Northern Illinois to 8-of-28 shooting.

“We did a great job forcing their shooters to scramble, making it hard for guys to shoot inside and forcing them to the perimeter,” Kent State assistant coach Rob Senderoff said in a radio interview after the game.

The Flashes were lucky to have an 11-point lead going into the second half after committing 10 turnovers in the first half. But the Huskies made their last field goal of the first half with 3 minutes and 25 seconds remaining allowing the Flashes to go on a 9-0 run.

Youngblood and junior guard Omni Smith opened up the second half with layups before Northern Illinois scored. Huskie senior guard Anthony Maestranzi then took two points after a goal-tending call against Kent State.

The Flashes scored two points on each of their first six possessions of the second half and led by as many as 18 points with just over 16 minutes left to play before the Huskies rallied. The Huskies scored the next eight points, which brought their deficit to 10 with 13:44 to go, before making things even worse for the Flashes.

Kent State fouled eight times during Northern Illinois’ next seven possessions. The game was 53-48 with 7:34 remaining and within the Huskies’ reach before the Flashes gained back the momentum.

Youngblood then got fouled while making a layup and converted a three-point play to turn the game around. During the Huskies’ next possession, senior center Nate Gerwig stole the ball and put in two of his seven points. Back on defense, Youngblood grabbed one of his six rebounds, went down the court, missed a shot, but got the ball back after a rebound and put up another deuce. After a missed 3-point attempt by Northern Illinois, Youngblood made a 3-pointer of his own, capping a 10-0 run and giving Kent State a 15-point lead with 5:04 left.

“(Youngblood’s) been our most consistent player and has been able to create shots for us,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said in a press release. “He made two unbelievable plays in the second half that gave us more energy on the defensive end.”

“Coach has a lot of faith in me,” Youngblood said in a radio interview. “I worked out hard during the off season, so that when he called my name and my play, I’d be ready for it.”

Down by 10 with 1:41 left to play, the Huskies forced the Flashes to the free throw line on every possession, only for the Flashes to score their last eight points of the game going 8-for-8 from line.

The Huskies were led in scoring by junior center James Hughes with 15 points off the bench, followed by Maestranzi with 14.

The Flashes’ bench, led by Smith and senior forward Kevin Warzynski, outscored the Huskies’ bench 14-4 in the second half and 32-24 for the game. Kent State is 10-3 when its bench outscores its opponent’s and 10-2 when the bench scores more than 20 points in a game.

Senior guard DeAndre Haynes finished with nine points and four rebounds. Redshirt freshman Isaac Knight, who only scored two points, led the Flashes with seven rebounds.

Sophomore forward Mike Scott, who also only had two points, made significant contributions elsewhere. He had six rebounds and made sure the Huskies’ leading scorer senior forward Todd Peterson did not make an impact in the game. Peterson, who averages 10.7 points per game, only scored seven on Saturday.

“Todd Peterson is a tough match up and Scott did a great job contesting every shot he took,” Senderoff said.

He added that Haynes also “did a great job of controlling the game, not just scoring, but leading the team.”

Kent State’s six-game winning streak dates back to a home victory against Toledo on Jan. 4. In 53 seasons, the Flashes have never been 6-0 against MAC teams. They have a better MAC record now than they did at this point in the 2001-2002 season when they advanced to the Elite Eight of NCAA Tournament.

“It was important for us to get off to a good start, especially since everybody in our division is very balanced. We need to take advantage of all our opportunities, especially on the road,” Christian said. “This season, any win on the road in the MAC is huge. Especially playing in a tough place like Northern Illinois, we needed to put ourselves in position to win and then capitalize on the opportunities. Fortunately for us, we took advantage today.”

The Flashes start their MAC East schedule at 7 p.m. tomorrow on the road against Miami (9-6, 6-1 MAC). Miami took its first conference loss on Saturday, falling 59-50 to Western Michigan (5-11, 2-4 MAC), a team Kent State beat 77-62 last Tuesday.

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