The Kent State men’s basketball team has a long and notable history of postseason success, but it has been a long time since the Golden Flashes last did battle in the NCAA Tournament.
Kent State’s nine-year absence from the NCAA Tournament ends tonight, as the Golden Flashes (22-13), the No. 14 seed in the South Region, take on the third-seeded UCLA Bruins at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, tonight.
“First of all, it's an honor to be here and for our team and our program to be part of March Madness here again,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said at NCAA Tournament media day Thursday. “As you mentioned, first time since 2008 and sixth time in school history.
“This is great to be a part of. Our players are really excited. Our university is excited to be a part of this and getting an opportunity to play a great UCLA program and a great UCLA team is something we're really looking forward to.”
Kent State Golden Flashes win Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship
The 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, capped off by a 70-65 win over Akron in the MAC Championship Game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland last Saturday.
“Our league is very, very difficult,” Senderoff said. “It's a one-bid league most of the time, and it's a league where you can have tremendous success and still not be in the NCAA Tournament.”
While many of his predecessors had successful runs in the MAC Tournament and were able to advance in the NCAA Tournament, Senderoff had not led the Golden Flashes to “The Big Dance” in his six years with the program.
But Senderoff rewarded the faith and support of the administration with a victory over Akron and will now have a chance to add his own chapter in Kent State basketball history.
“We've won 122 games in the six years that I've been the head coach, but getting to that tournament means so much to our school and to our fans and to our university that it's just really humbling to be part of this,” Senderoff said.
“Our team this year, we started out with some really good wins, and we beat Texas at Texas early in the season, but also, some close losses, and at one point, we were 9-9. At one point, we were 13-12 and we were 1-4 in the league and 5-7 in the league at one point.
“To finish winning nine out of 10 games, to be down in eight out of those 10 games at halftime, it really shows the resiliency and the toughness of the group that we have, and as a coach, you couldn't be prouder of seeing a group of men who compete and play as hard as they do for each other and for our university.”