KENT: After second-half collapses that led to back-to-back road losses and left at least one Kent State player questioning the heart of his teammates, drawing Northern Illinois at home Wednesday was the perfect remedy for the Golden Flashes.
Racing out to a 12-0 lead to start the game, the Flashes played with a sense of urgency that had been sorely missing as of late. KSU then used its trademark defense to help methodically build a 25-point advantage by halftime and never looked back en route to a 90-56 victory.
“Our key tonight was defense,” senior point guard Michael Porrini said. “And we did a good job with that. We wanted to keep [Huskies freshman guard Abdel] Nader, a talented kid, in check. Last game he had 26 [points] … my key was to come in and shut him down.”
Porrini did the job to perfection, as Nader went 0-for-10 with three turnovers in 22 minutes. Meanwhile, on offense the Flashes (13-6 overall, 3-3 Mid-American Conference) shot 57 percent for the game and had a season-high 27 assists on 32 field goals.
“That means there was very little one-on-one play,” said Flashes first-year head coach Rob Senderoff, who had lectured his team after both recent losses about getting away from playing team basketball by trying to do too much individually.
In all, five KSU players finished with double-figure scoring, led by freshman guard Kris Brewer’s career-high 15 points off the bench. Junior Chris Evans, Randal Holt and senior forward Justin Greene added 14 points apiece and Carlton Guyton chipped in 11.
For the Huskies (2-16, 1-5), freshman forward Keith Gray was the only player to reach double figures with 15 points in 27 minutes.
Of course, beating up on an inexperienced team at home is one thing. But it won’t be fair to say the Flashes are truly back on track until they prove they can win on the road Saturday at Toledo.
“Anytime you can win by 40-something it’s a [good win],” Greene said. “Northern is a young team. In the next couple years it’ll be their time. But right now, they’re young and we wanted to come out and take advantage of that and use them to jump start us on this West [Division] swing.”
Kent State’s path to redemption began Saturday night after a disheartening 84-75 loss at Akron.
In the interview room immediately following the game, Greene talked about the need for his teammates to check their hearts for the remainder of the season.
“I told our team, ‘we got a little Hollywood,’?’’ Greene said. “We were feeling ourselves a little too much.”
When the team bus pulled up to the M.A.C. Center about an hour later, Senderoff immediately called a meeting with the team’s starters — seniors Greene, Porrini, Justin Manns and Guyton along with junior Holt.
The gist of it was a one-way conversation by Senderoff, followed by some hard-to-watch film study of the game.
“I just talked with the upper classmen,” Senderoff said. “Not angry … just [reminding them] that there’s limited days left. I said, ‘you guys are going to leave here, but I’ll be back here next year.
“You guys are either going to leave here on the right note or you’re gonna leave here with your legacy being underachievers.’?”
Wednesday, the Flashes’ veterans chose the former. But only time will tell how they opt to finish the season.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Stephanie on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/sstorm13. Follow Beacon Journal sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.