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March 1, 2012

Kent State is sizing up the MAC tournament

KENT, Ohio - What do the basketball teams at Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Creighton, and Florida have in common with Kent State?

Anyone? No one? Ok, I'll give up the answer: With Wednesday night's 68-61 win against Ohio at the M.A.C Center, Kent State joins those seven teams as the only programs who can claim they have won 20 or more games in 13 of the last 14 seasons. (Kent State struggled mightily in 2008-2009, when it only won 19 games)

As evidenced by that statistic, the Golden Flashes have been nothing if not a model of consistency over the last decade. If shorter-term success is your bag, then consider this: with last night's victory, Kent State has now won thirty consecutive games against MAC West opponents. Of course, Kent State plays in the MAC East, but last night's win also gives the program 14 straight seasons of 10 or more in-conference wins. Only Kansas, Creighton and Gonzaga share that achievement.

All those lofty accolades aside, last night's win against Ohio University has a much more immediate and relevant impact on Head Coach Rob Senderoff's team: a first-round bye in next week's MAC Tournament no matter what happens in Friday night's regular season finale against their biggest rival, and division leading, Akron.

Friday's nationally televised game (7pm EST, ESPN2) is senior night for four Kent State players, including reigning MAC Player of the Year Justin Greene, Guards Carlton Guyton and Michael Porrini, along with center Justin Manns will stand alongside Greene in their last game at home for the Flash faithful.

Senderoff understands the emotions that are in play as his team prepares for the Zips, and recognizes that knocking off their biggest rival could propel his team moving through the MAC tournament.

"We know that game is huge," Senderoff said. "That game is one of the biggest rivalry games in the league. We just know we have to come out and play with a lot of emotion. Teams that win those games usually do the little things right. It's not going to come down to execution, it's going to come down to who wants in more down the stretch."

The Zips got the better of the Flashes in their own building on January 21st by a 84-75 margin. Randal Holt led Kent State with 27 points but the rest of the team was held in check while Nick Harney went 10-12 from the field for 21 of his own in a winning effort. The Zips shot 56-percent from the field to Kent State's 43-percent and erased an eight-point deficit to win by nine. There will be no lack of focus for Kent State in this one.

"We owe them some payback," Senderoff added. "Hopefully our team will get high enough and get to the NCAA tournament."

No matter what happens Friday, Kent State's MAC Tournament run will kick off in Cleveland at the Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday, March 8th, but their opponent at this time is still up in the air.

This year's tournament will be the first year that the MAC has employed its new tourney set-up, which was designed to get the conference's elite teams into the NCAA field with a bit more energy. The first and second seeds in each MAC division will receive a bye into the conference's semi-finals, and the third and fourth seeds in each division (where Kent State falls) receive a pass into the quarterfinals.

Check back on KentStateReport.com for more as Kent State gets ready to take on the MAC and beyond.


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