The Kent State Golden Flashes were dismissed by many critics heading into the Mid-American Conference Tournament after dropping the regular-season finale against the Akron Zips and falling to the No. 6 seed, where it required an additional game over a six-day span.
But the Golden Flashes (22-13) did not pay any attention to the critics, and instead focused on the task at hand, which pushed them through an overtime game against Central Michigan Monday, and then, to wins over the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in consecutive days, capped off by a 70-65 win over Akron in the MAC Championship Game to earn the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid in nine years.
“It’s been a real fun journey,” Kent State senior center Jimmy Hall said at NCAA Tournament media day Thursday. “We worked real hard over the summer and it means everything to our team and to Kent State that we're here in this position right now.”
Fellow senior Deon Edwin added, “Our journey was good. We had a little bumpy start, and through the season, we had some ups and downs, but I guess this makes the season more enjoyable that we're here, so I would say it's a good season for us.”
Less than 24 hours after Kent State won the MAC Championship, the NCAA Tournament draw was announced. The Golden Flashes were awarded the No. 14 seed in the South Region, where they will face the third-seeded UCLA Bruins in first-round action at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, tonight.
But long before they qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the Golden Flashes held a passionate team meeting in the locker room to figure out how to correct the mistakes that led to a four-game losing streak in MAC play in early January.
“We had one big fight in the locker room, not physically, but just an argument,” Edwin said. “Challenging all players, I think, because at that time, we were so offensive-minded instead of more defensive-minded and just doing the right thing to get the job done.
“I think at that point, it was Toledo. We lost in a conference game and from there, everything swung around, so I think that was our main turning point.”
Through all of the struggles, the Golden Flashes found a way to thrive, and now, they have an opportunity to showcase their skills against a member of college basketball royalty when they take on the Bruins with a second-round berth on the line.
“That's everybody's goal, you know, as soon as you come into college, to win your MAC Tournament and get to the NCAA because this is the biggest stage,” Edwin said. “At this time, all eyes are on you and everybody else wants to proceed from here to get a job in the NBA or overseas, now to show their talent and have fun.”
Hall added, “It means a lot to me being a senior and this being my last year. Who is to say if you could play basketball after this? It's a real privilege and honor to be here in my last, final year.”