By Stephanie Storm Beacon Journal sports writer
KENT: Kent State had its share of Pittsburgh Steelers fans in the crowd Saturday night. A dabbling of San Diego Chargers fans as well.
Not to forget all the additional parents sitting in the stands, who'd come from all over the map to watch their sons' final home college game.
For the most part, Kent State didn't let the emotions of Senior Night, nor all the hoopla of Kent State's Hall of Fame class featuring former standouts James Harrison (football) and Antonio Gates (basketball), interfere with its goal:
The Flashes defeated visiting Miami University 66-58.
''I thought there were times where we let the emotion get to us,'' Kent State coach Geno Ford said. ''But on a night with all this going on, it's understandable.''
With KSU leading 35-26 and the halftime ceremony under way, both Gates and Harrison earned a rousing standing ovation from the 5,781 fans packed into the M.A.C. Center.
Although Harrison, the Steelers' popular linebacker, seemed to garner a louder response as he was introduced, the applause for the Chargers' Gates lasted longer while he personally raised his retired No. 44 jersey to the rafters.
As Gates made his way to Kent and walked up the steps to the M.A.C. Center, a flood of memories came back to him from his time in college.
''I thought about all the accolades and all the things we did as a basketball team,'' said Gates, already a six-time Pro Bowler with the Chargers. ''But the one thing that really stood out to me personally [was] that last day in the locker room. The jokes, the people — that has more effect on me than anything on the basketball court.
''We had a dream, we had a goal, we had a vision to become professional athletes. To know that you're living in the flesh and doing that . . . I didn't really realize how privileged we were until I left and came back.''
Trailing the host Flashes by nine points at halftime, Miami opened with a 10-4 spurt to cut the KSU lead to three.
But KSU sophomore center Justin Greene, who led all scorers at the half with 10 points, scored on four of the Flashes' next five possessions to give the Flashes a 47-41 lead.
Greene stole the show from the upperclassmen, finishing with a game-best 18 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.
''I've never seen a kid improve so much in a year,'' longtime Miami coach Charlie Coles said of Greene. ''Whatever they did with him, we need to do with our guys.''
Following a lull of four minutes and 47 seconds, when neither team could find the basket (a lull that stretched to seven-plus minutes for Miami), KSU senior forward Frank Henry-Ala made a layup that woke everyone up again.
Henry-Ala, known for his defense, had his best game in two seasons at Kent State, producing 12 points, six rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block.
''I felt like it was important that I go out on top,'' said Henry-Ala, whose family came from California to see his final game. ''I did it for my dad and my sister in the stands, for my teammates and for Chris [Singletary].''
Five of the six KSU seniors scored, with Singletary adding 11 points and six rebounds, Anthony Simpson contributing 11 points and seven rebounds, Tyree Evans adding three points and Brandon Parks scoring four points.
At the end of the game, as the KSU players began to make their way to the locker room, an emotional Singletary went back out to midcourt, knelt down and kissed the KSU logo.
''Michael Jordan kissed the United Center [logo] when he was done with his career because it meant a lot to him,'' Singletary said. ''The same way Kent State means a lot to me. It was for all this school has done for me the past four years. It's made me a better person, a better father for my daughter and a mentor to my younger brothers.''
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