KENT: Randal Holt knew what a majority of Kent State basketball fans were thinking before the first game of the season tipped off Friday night against visiting Drexel.
With such a highly regarded and veteran team in Drexel coming to the M.A.C. Center to take on the young and predominantly inexperienced Golden Flashes, odds were that KSU was going to struggle to keep up.
“We knew coming into the game a lot of people had wrote us off,” Holt said. “Before the game even started, they thought we were gonna lose. We just used that as fuel to the fire and went out and played our hearts out.”
Fans might have very well thought as much, judging by all the empty seats. But Holt and his teammates were convinced otherwise. And by the end of Kent State’s 66-62 overtime victory, even Drexel coach Bruiser Flint was a believer in the young Flashes.
“Kent, they came to play,” said Flint, whose squad returned four starters from a team that went 29-7 and reached the NIT quarterfinals. “It was a big game for them, and they showed it. They beat us to every loose ball, every loose rebound and they played with toughness when they got down. At the end of the game, Kent’s young guys did what they were supposed to do and we had a lot of older guys on our team who didn’t do what they were supposed to do.”
Not all of KSU’s players are young — and it was those few experienced guys who led the way to the improbable win. Senior guard Chris Evans had team-highs in points (21) and rebounds (nine) to go along with two assists, two blocks and a steal in 31 minutes of play.
Holt had just a week and a half of practice after offseason knee surgery, yet contributed 17 points, including the final four points of the game, all free throws.
Even junior forward Mark Henninger (who chipped in just two points), had eight rebounds, an assist, block and steal and did other little things that earned the praise of Flashes coach Rob Senderoff.
“Chris Evans made huge plays down the stretch,” Senderoff said. “Randal had huge free throws down the stretch. Mark Henninger hadn’t played 36 minutes in his career, and even though this was the most physical team we’ll play all year, he was unbelievable on the glass with rebounds and tipping loose balls.”
Evans and Holt were especially clutch, their fingerprints all over helping the Flashes make up four points late in regulation to send the game into overtime and then again to secure the win in the five-minute overtime period.
It was Holt’s back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half that sparked Kent State to life, giving them a 32-29 lead over the Dragons. After weathering a stretch of 5:25 without a basket, the Flashes got right back to trimming the Dragons’ six-point lead.
Another Holt three with 1:11 to go gave KSU a 53-52 lead, and Evans tied it with a spin move on the base line coming out of the time out with 26.9 left.
In overtime, the two teamed up again. Evans started with a steal on Drexel’s first possession and dished to Holt. When the shot missed, Evans cleaned it up with a dunk. Later, playing with four fouls, Evans hit two free throws to give KSU a three-point lead with 34.5 seconds left in the extra period.
Drexel’s Chris Fouch (game-high 24 points) nailed a 3-pointer to tie the score but then inexplicably fouled Holt with 17.7 seconds left, apparently thinking the Dragons were still trailing. Holt nailed the ensuing free throws to pull ahead, then two more to secure win.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.