KENT: The last time Cleveland State and Kent State played at the M.A.C. Center two seasons ago, a sellout crowd of 6,327 showed up to watch the game between the Northeast Ohio rivals.
Despite KSU’s 57-53 loss, the fans were treated to an evening to remember with a game that lived up to the hype. However, KSU’s loss played into a recent trend in which the road team has won the past three games of the series.
It’s a theme the Golden Flashes (9-2) hope to halt tonight when they welcome the Vikings (7-6) back to the M.A.C. Center for a 7 p.m. tipoff in a series that began in 1933 and one in which KSU has a 26-22 advantage.
“Cleveland State may not play in the [Mid-American Conference], but it’s a rivalry game that everyone gets excited about for a couple reasons,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. “For starters, [CSU coach] Gary [Waters] coached here and was very successful. But also, our guys know their guys through summer leagues. It is those kind of connections that make this game take on a little more meaning than a normal nonleague matchup.”
The Flashes still have one more nonconference game to go — Tuesday at Princeton — before beginning their conference schedule against Ohio (8-3) on Jan. 8.
But the Flashes must focus on the task at hand, a Vikings team that is coming off an 89-42 blowout of Division III La Roche (Pa.) Monday. KSU is off to a successful start that includes a six-game winning streak while CSU has had its share of difficulty. The Vikings have just one win in their past four games and are 1-5 on the road.
“They’ve had their struggles like the rest of us,” Senderoff said. “But a lot of that gets thrown out the window in these kind of rivalry games.”
Bryn Forbes, the reigning Horizon League Newcomer of the Year, leads the Vikings on offense. A sophomore guard, Forbes ranks among the nation’s top 3-point shooters. He is 26th in 3-point percentage (.466) and 36th in 3-pointers made (34).
Forbes is joined by sophomore guard Trey Lewis (13.9 points, 3.8 assists), who transferred from Penn State and sat out last season under NCAA rules.
“They have good guards this year like they always do,” Senderoff said. “They do some things differently this year defensively, they play much more zone. But, offensively, they always have great guards who play with a lot of freedom and are all pretty dynamic scorers.”
But the Vikings aren’t limited solely to guard play. In the front court, forward Anton Grady returned this season after being sidelined most of last year with an injury. A 6-foot-7 sophomore, Grady is a two-time preseason second team all-conference selection and was CSU’s top scorer and rebounder a year ago.
Grady is joined by forward Jon Harris, another transfer with whom the Flashes are familiar. Harris, a 6-foot-7 senior, played in the MAC at Miami the past three seasons. Like KSU’s Derek Jackson, Harris was eligible to play right away, and leads the Vikings with 6.2 rebounds per game and averages 10.1 points.
“They have a number of players who can score, so we’re going to need to make sure we do a good job of team defending,” Senderoff said.
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://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.