By virtue of four wins over a six-day span in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, the Kent State men’s basketball team earned its way back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years.
Although the Golden Flashes (22-13) were awarded the No. 14 seed in the South Region and had to travel across the country to play a member of college basketball royalty, the UCLA Bruins, they are going dancing tonight in first-round action at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.
“It’s just a blessing,” sophomore guard Jaylin Walker said after open workouts Thursday. “It’s just a blessing to be here. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I’ve been playing basketball. It’s just a blessing.”
When Kent State squared off against its archrival, the Akron Zips, for the 2017 MAC Championship at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland last Saturday night, both the Golden Flashes and Zips felt the support of their passionate fan bases.
But there were notable former Golden Flashes who showed up in support of this year’s squad, and those who had earned rings of their own walked out of The Q happy after watching Kent State earn a 70-65 win over Akron and claim the MAC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Since winning the MAC Championship, several former Kent State athletes, namely Super Bowl champion Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots and multi-time Pro Bowl kick returner Joshua Cribbs, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, have reached out through social media to express their support for the program.
“The support is huge for us,” Walker said. “Being on the road a lot of times, especially here, not too many fans are going to be here, but that support is huge for us.
“All of the football players that have played here, they shout us out on Twitter and stuff, and it’s huge for us getting this nice exposure. It’s just nice.”
While many of his predecessors had successful runs in the MAC Tournament and were able to advance in the NCAA Tournament, Kent State coach Rob 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, which is rich with conference and national successes.
In five previous trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Golden Flashes have posted a 4-5 record, including three wins and a run to the Elite Eight during the 2002 season, where they hung tough with the Indiana Hoosiers in the Regional Final.
“We’re just trying to take it one day at a time, but we already know they made the pathway for us, so we’ve just got to finish it off,” Walker said.
© 2017 WKYC-TV