‘We’re not done’: Men’s basketball headed to NCAA tournament


Emma Van Winkle

The Kent State Men’s basketball team celebrates winning the MAC Tournament Championship against UT March on 11, 2023.

Jacob Shondel, Reporter

Last season, the Kent State men’s basketball team lost in the championship game of the Mid-American Conference tournament 75-55 to Akron. 

Saturday, the Flashes (28-6) defeated top-seeded Toledo (27-7) 93-78 to capture their seventh MAC championship and first since 2017. 

“This is our ultimate goal, and I feel like ever since this weekend started, everybody bought in, and we were willing to sacrifice and put it all on the line,” redshirt senior guard Sincere Carry said. “Coming here last year, we lost, and we kept 75-55 in our head. I worked my hardest that year, and doing all that and losing.”

“I was just pushing for this moment right here, and I feel a lot of relief, but we’re not done. There’s still more to do.”

Coach Rob Senderoff was happy his team could experience this feeling after how last season ended. 

“It’s awesome for them because last year was a really tough evening for us about a year ago tonight,” he said. “These things are special moments, and it’s hard to get to the NCAA tournament. I’m happy for everybody who’s involved with the program.”

The Rockets came into the game on a 17-game winning streak – their last loss was on Jan. 10 at the M.A.C. Center to Kent State. 

In the championship-clinching game, the Flashes bench outscored UT 29-2 – led by senior forward Chris Payton (17) and MAC Sixth Man of the Year sophomore guard Jalen Sullinger (12). 

“When they see us seniors out there competing and diving on the ground, they have no choice but to match our energy,” redshirt senior guard Malique Jacobs said. 

Game time

Both teams went back-and-forth to start the game with a 16-16 score after eight minutes.

Kent State red-shirt Senior Sincere Carry smiling going into the MAC Tournament Championship game against UT on March 11, 2023. (Emma Van Winkle )

The Flashes started the game by shooting 6-of-12 – the Rockets started 6-of-16. 

KSU converted on two shots from behind the arc, leading to an 11-0 scoring run and a 27-16 lead.

Rockets forward Setric Millner Jr. would score the next 11 points for his team, cutting into the Kent State lead  31-27. 

Over the final four minutes of the first half, the Flashes shot 2-of-10 from the field as UT went on a 10-1 scoring run to take a 34-33 lead.

With one second on the clock, redshirt senior guard Malique Jacobs converted a layup, giving Kent State a 35-33 lead at the break. 

20 of the 35 first-half points for the Flashs came inside the paint – Toledo recorded 10 points, respectively. 

MAC Player of the Year Rayj Dennis was limited to six points, as he shot 1-of-6 from the field. Forward J.T. Shumate, who averages 16.3 points, was scoreless on 0-of-2 shooting. 

The Flashes started the second half shooting 5-of-5 from the field, as redshirt senior forward Miryne Thomas recorded five points, extending KSU’s lead to 46-42. 

Both teams would trade baskets over the next eight minutes, and the score was 65-61 Kent State, with 7:40 remaining in the game. 

After a 13-6 scoring run, the Flashes extended their lead to 78-67 with four minutes remaining in the game. During this time, Payton totaled five points.

Kent State closed the game by shooting 4-of-4 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. 

KSU had five players score 10 or more points. 

Carry scored a game-high 26 points and was named MAC tournament MVP averaging 20 points over his last three games.

Kent State red-shirt Miryne Thomas and Malique Jacobs boxing out UT senior Setric (Emma Van Winkle )

Jacobs added 18 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three blocks – he was named to the MAC-All Tournament Team with Carry. 

Thomas totaled 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” Thomas said. “I’ve never accomplished something like this in my life, and now I can finally say I have.”

Kent State shot 55.7 % from the field and 10-of-24 from behind the arc. The Rockets shot 42.4%  from the field and 7-of-27 from behind the arc. 

KSU recorded 44 points in the paint – Toledo scored 26.

 Time to dance

The Flashes have now clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament, beginning Thursday. 

“I’m just trying to soak it in. I’m not taking it for granted,” Carry said. “I want to make some noise, and I’m not just going just to experience the moment I’m trying to win.”

Thomas said the matchups earlier in the season against Houston, Gonzaga and Charleston will help them come tournament time. 

“When we played in those competitive games with those competitive teams, we knew that we should have left with wins,” he said. “If we get into that same situation again, we’re more than ready.”

Jacob Shondel is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].