KENT — Buffalo, the 14th-ranked team in the nation, has deservedly occupied center stage in Mid-American Conference men's basketball since the start of the season.

But several MAC "side shows" have quietly earned rave reviews in their own right, and Kent State is certainly one of them.

The Golden Flashes jumped out to their best start since 2002-03 by going 11-2 in nonconference play, with wins at Power Five programs Vanderbilt and Oregon State, then reached 4-2 in the MAC by overcoming a 17-point second-half deficit to stun visiting Toledo 87-85 in overtime on Tuesday.

Friday night, the Flashes (15-4) will get a shot to steal some of the Bulls' thunder when they host their first ranked opponent since 1989.

“It's just one game in a long season, and you want your guys to keep things in perspective. But I know our guys will be excited to play. That goes without saying,” eighth-year KSU coach Rob Senderoff said. “In this league you just don't get ranked teams in your building. We'll be excited to play because it's a team that's gotten a ton of recognition all season, and our kids want recognition, too. That's how it works.”

Kent State deserves some props for a 15-4 record despite losing two starting frontcourt players for the season over the summer, then playing the first five games without star senior shooting guard Jaylin Walker. The surprise loss of two starters in the post was particularly impactful, leaving the Flashes with just three players in the rotation over 6-6.

“You can't replace a 7-foot and a 6-10 kid in the spring, let alone the summer. You really can't replace that kind of size at any level,” Senderoff said. “We've changed the way we play a little bit with four guards. We've tried to scrap and claw and find different ways to be successful.”

Senior point guard Jalen Avery took on some of the scoring load in the opening five games while Walker was out, averaging 18 points and leading Kent State to four wins.

Walker returned in late November and promptly scored 22 points to lift the Flashes past then-unbeaten Vanderbilt, which nearly knocked off top-ranked Tennessee on Wednesday. He followed that by pouring in a career-high 36 in a dramatic come-from-behind victory at Detroit Mercy, and Walker has yet to cool down.

After tying his career high and hitting the game-winner against the Rockets on Tuesday, Walker is averaging 23.4 points and shooting 46 percent from 3-point range.

Avery has settled back into his steady role at the point, averaging 11.9 points with 76 assists compared to 12 turnovers, and 6-9 forward Akiean Frederick — the team's only other senior — has provided a huge lift with 12 points in each of the last two games.

Junior newcomers Antonio Williams and Philip Whittington have started nearly every game at guard and forward, respectively, and have made a major impact on both ends of the floor. Junior college transfer guard CJ Williamson and freshman guard Anthony Roberts have come through in key situations, and 6-5 junior guard Mitch Peterson (Walsh Jesuit) has been gritty as always while consistently battling much bigger and stronger players at the four position.

“Mitch in particular is a glue-guy playing against bigger, more physical guys. He's done a really good job with that of late,” Senderoff said.