KENT: The center position was one of the main areas of concern for Kent State going into the season.
Senior center Mark Henniger was given the nod to start the season in the post, but there was no guarantee the former Jackson High School standout would remain there without some steady improvement and increasing production.
After spending a majority of the offseason in the gym and weight room working on his game and adding 10 pounds of muscle, Henniger’s hard work has paid off. In the Flashes’ past two games he’s posted career highs in points.
After scoring 13 points to lead the way in Saturday’s win over Saint Peter’s, Henniger upped the ante with a career-best 17 points along with eight rebounds and two blocks to lead host Kent State (4-1) to a 72-59 victory over Western Carolina on Thursday in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the M.A.C. Center.
“The weight room has a big thing to do with it,” Henniger said. “As does the fact that Coach [Rob Senderoff] has been working more on rebounding in practice.”
Whatever it is, Henniger’s inspiring play, which also included a steal and a coast-to-coast layup and 9-of-9 at the free-throw line, had the student section chanting “MVP!” during his last trip to the foul line.
A little later, the raucous group gave the 6-foot-9, 230-pounder a standing ovation when he left the floor for the final time with six minutes left and the Flashes in charge with a 16-point advantage.
Henniger had only four points at halftime, as he and the rest of the Flashes started off slowly and out of sync offensively. The Catamounts (3-3) built an 18-13 lead with just less than eight minutes to go thanks to a 9-2 run.
But junior guard Dev Manley sparked the Flashes with a hard blocking foul under the Catamounts basket, then made back-to-back baskets on the other end of the floor during a 14-4 run that gave the Flashes a 27-22 halftime lead.
It wasn’t a pretty first half. Kent State was 0-for-8 from 3-point range, had zero second-chance points on seven offensive rebounds and shot just 11-of-15 from the foul line.
But after the break, Kent State began to find its groove by feeding Henniger in the post and the offense began to flow.
Junior point guard Kris Brewer also finished in double figures with 12 points and three assists and sophomore guard K.K. Simmons added a career-high 10 points off the bench on 8-for-8 shooting from the foul line to go with three assists.
In the earlier game Thursday, University of South Carolina Upstate defeated Niagara 83-74.
Tonight during the second day of the three-day event, Western Carolina and Niagara tip off at 5 p.m., followed by Kent State hosting USC Upstate 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.