KENT: When Michael Porrini suggested early in Kent State’s foray into its Mid-American Conference schedule that it would take some time for the Golden Flashes to come together and live up to the hype, even he couldn’t have thought it would take this long.
After the Flashes stumbled out of the gate with three early MAC losses, Porrini, a senior point guard, admonished those who assumed it would be easy to win the MAC just because KSU returned a group of decorated seniors and was picked to claim its third consecutive regular-season crown.
Porrini proved to be prophetic.
Kent State (19-9, 9-5 MAC) rebounded with a seven-game winning streak to put itself right back into the East Division race, but that momentum has disappeared with a three-game losing streak that includes MAC losses to Miami and Bowling Green that knocked the Flashes into fourth place.
That leaves the Flashes, heading into the final two games of the regular season this week, badly needing wins against the league’s top two teams.
With rematches tonight against Ohio (23-6, 10-4) and rival Akron (20-9, 12-2) Friday, the Flashes are facing a tough road to a higher seed for the MAC Tournament.
A win against the Bobcats guarantees KSU no worse than a No. 4 seed in next week’s MAC Tournament, and a crucial bye into the quarterfinals.
“We need to win for seeding purposes and to get a feeling back that we can win,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said.
Their current situation is almost unfathomable considering the Flashes’ high hopes at the beginning of the season.
But that’s the cold, hard reality the Flashes have put themselves in, fending off questions about their heart and will to win, whispers that will only disappear with wins.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to us on the floor to get it done,” Porrini said after Tuesday’s practice. “Our coaching staff gives us a game plan, but if we don’t come together as a group, then none of that matters.”
Porrini wouldn’t get into specifics as to why the Flashes hadn’t come together fully yet, but said there has been no finger pointing among the players during the recent skid, not even in a players-only meeting held before the loss to Bowling Green on Saturday.
Porrini still believes the Flashes’ best basketball is in front of them.
“If we win these next two games, all this talk about the three-game losing streak goes away,” he said. “If that happens, we’re rolling, and everyone forgets about it. In a matter of four days, things could change again real quickly.
“When you head into the tournament, it’s a new season. Anything can happen. Whether you’re the second seed or the sixth seed, it doesn’t matter. We saw it last year, when we were the first seed and we lost [in the finals]. The No. 1 seed didn’t mean anything.”
Perhaps that’s what this up-and-down KSU team needs.
The Flashes haven’t handled having a bull’s eye on their backs well this season. They have performed better as underdogs, often fighting back from double-digit deficits late in games and seem to use doubt as the fire that gets them to play up to their abilities.
There is no more room for error beginning tonight against surging Ohio, which beat KSU 87-65 on Jan. 18 and is coming off a 24-point victory over Akron on Sunday night.
“I think we are going to play with desperation and fire this week,” Senderoff said. “At some point, we just gotta do it. But you can play as hard as you can and still not beat Ohio because they are good. That being said, all it takes is one win to get you going in the right direction. This game, if we can win it, it could springboard us into the postseason.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at SStormABJ.