KENT: With three games remaining in the regular season, Kent State can’t claim the top seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. But the Golden Flashes control their destiny when it comes to the still-coveted No. 2 seed.
If the Flashes win their last three games, starting tonight at Bowling Green and then at home against Ohio and Akron, they will earn a bye into the semifinal round of the tournament.
The top two seeds get a double-bye into the semifinals, and the third and fourth seeds earn a bye into the quarterfinals.
Tonight’s game at Bowling Green’s new Stroh Center will be televised by SportsTime Ohio at 6 p.m.. With a win over the Falcons (14-13, 7-6 MAC), KSU guarantees itself no worse than a fourth seed.
The tournament begins March 5, and the new format makes the road to the title and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament much easier for the MAC’s top teams.
For the others, the postseason becomes an incredibly tough road. The first two rounds will be at school sites, with only two teams advancing to Quicken Loans Arena to face the third and fourth seeds in the quarterfinals.
Nothing has come easy for the Flashes (19-8, 12-4) this season, and a win over the Falcons, who are 10-3 at home, is far from guaranteed.
Despite being a senior-laden team that boasts the reigning Mid-American Conference Player of the Year (Justin Greene), Defensive Player of the Year (Michael Porrini) and Sixth Man of the Year (Carlton Guyton), KSU has often played like an inconsistent and rebuilding team sorely lacking veteran leadership.
The Flashes stumbled out of the gate in the MAC with losses to East Division-foes Buffalo, Ohio and Akron. But they rebounded by reeling off a seven-game winning streak, thanks in large part to facing the weaker West Division teams in cross-divisional play.
But that streak was halted last week with back-to-back losses to the College of Charleston in the annual BracketBusters event, followed by a loss at struggling Miami on Tuesday night.
After falling behind by 12 points early in the second half against the RedHawks, the Flashes suddenly turned it on.
Although KSU managed to pull even late in the game, Miami secured the upset at the free-throw line after a controversial foul on senior guard Michael Porrini. Replays appeared to show Porrini got all ball in an attempted block, but he was called for a foul.
KSU coach Rob Senderoff, however, is in no mood to hear anyone blame the officials.
“If you allow the officials to dictate the outcome of the game, you can only blame yourselves for being in that position,” Senderoff said. “Whether it was or wasn’t a foul, I really don’t care.”
Despite a wealth of experience, the Flashes admittedly lost focus at times during the conference season.
“We were just feeling ourselves a little too much,” Greene said after the three early division losses, referring to last season’s honors and this year’s preseason accolades.
That still doesn’t explain why KSU doesn’t seem to play an entire game with the same amount of energy and passion as it displays once it’s fallen behind by double digits.
“I don’t really know why that is,” Senderoff said, “When you’re playing a game, every possession is important. So you gotta play like it is and not wait to turn it on once you’ve dug a big hole.”
With his team’s inconsistencies in mind, Senderoff is staying away from big-picture thinking such as winning out. That’s why he’s preaching that the only game that matters is the one that’s right in front of Flashes. Right now, that’s Bowling Green.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ. and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj