KENT: First, Kent State needed a convincing win over a young Northern Illinois team, a goal the Golden Flashes accomplished with a 34-point victory Wednesday.
Next up, the Flashes need to prove they can get back to winning on the road in league play, with the first test coming tonight at Toledo (10-10, 2-4 Mid-American Conference) followed by Tuesday with a matchup at Central Michigan (7-12, 2-4).
“We’ll be gone the entire time, so we gotta step up and find a way to do it, first at a talented Toledo squad,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said.
Senior point guard Michael Porrini, the team’s emotional leader, echoed the sentiment.
“This win [against Northern Illinois] doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “For us to win the MAC, we’ve got to be able to win on the road … we’ve taken a couple losses on the road but we can’t hang our heads about it. We did what we had to do [against the Huskies] and now we have to do it at Toledo.”
After humbling road losses at Ohio and at the University of Akron last week, the Kent State players realized they had to change their attitudes and check their egos in order to have a shot at being the MAC’s regular-season champions for the third season in a row.
“We got a little Hollywood, we were feeling ourselves a little too much,” Flashes senior forward Justin Greene conceded Wednesday after the team took out its pent-up aggression on the Huskies at the M.A.C. Center.
“Everyone had to look themselves in the mirror. [Senderoff] challenged us upperclassmen as leaders. He told us to make sure the young guys are on the same page with everything we’re doing. If they see us go hard, they’re going to go hard. If they see us being lackadaisical, then they’re going to be that way, too.”
Since that challenge, KSU (13-6, 3-3) thinks it has got its mental game in order.
“To start the game the right way [on a 21-3 run], then finish the half the right way and then when we gave up a couple baskets early in the second half, guys came to the huddle [ticked] off that we’d given up some points,” Senderoff said. “That’s the kind of play and attitude we need.”
Will it be enough to overcome three early losses in the MAC East Division? It’s probably a good thing the Flashes are taking a tour through the weaker West Division. One of the things that the Flashes need to work on, regardless of the opponent, is rebounding.
“Rebounding’s been an issue, it’s been an issue all year,” Senderoff said. “We’re not a great defensive rebounding team. Although we focus on it, we have to get better. It’s a concern, without question. We have to continue to work at it and get better at it.”
Rebounding will certainly be a key down the stretch run of the regular season — whether the Flashes are home or on the road.
“We expect to win at home,” Greene said. “Losing at home is really not acceptable. We started out pretty well on the road in nonconference play, but then we lost to three really good teams at home in the MAC. It’s rough, but we can’t take any road game lightly [anymore].
“But I think that once we start picking up some road wins and the team starts getting confident, getting back to our regular defensive principles and everyone playing as a collective group, I think that will jump-start us for the rest of the West swing and get us ready for the tough East swing we’ll have coming back up.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Stephanie on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/sstorm13. Follow Beacon Journal sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.