January 20, 2007

Golden Flashes nip the Falcons

Seniors Armon Gates and Omni Smith came off the bench and combined to score 27 points to lead Kent State to a 62-61 Mid-American Conference East Division victory over Bowling Green in front of a season-high 4,417 fans at the MAC Center in Kent.

The Golden Flashes started the game with sophomore Julian Sullinger and freshman Chris Singletary in place of usual starters Gates and Smith, a move dictated by the need to get off to a quick start against Bowling Green's active offense. The start was Singletary's fourth of the season and just the first for Sullinger this year.

"It wasn't sending a message to anybody," KSU head coach Jim Christian said. "We were putting guys out there that in this game we thought would give us the most energy, guys that in practice understood what we were trying to do."

That move paid off as the Flashes were able to overcome an early 5-0 Bowling Green lead to take a 32-29 lead into halftime.

"We've changed the lineup a lot," Christian said. "I thought the team needed energy for this game, we needed somebody to give us a shot and those guys came in and gave us energy. Sometimes you start guys in games because you think they are going to give you the best chance to get off to a good start, it's got nothing to do with anybody's performance or sending messages; we're trying to win games."

The Golden Flashes (10-8 overall, 3-2 in the MAC), who failed to hold second half leads in their last two losses, found themselves in a similar situation. But, this time around Kent State wouldn't be denied.

"You definitely kind of remember that position and kind of think back, 'gosh, we've been in this position a couple times,'" junior forward Mike Scott said. "It was time for a change; we've had a lot of meetings, a lot of talks, a lot of sessions where we were trying to figure each other out. We got to overcome the hump sometime and it happened today.

"We had to do it, it's that simple; we couldn't lose this one. We couldn't let ourselves down, let coach down, let the fans down. Everyone came out to see us win. We just had to win this one so we had to do whatever it took."

What it took was three crucial defensive stops down the stretch and two key three-pointers by Gates.

With just over seven minutes remaining in the game Bowling Green sophomore Nate Miller pulled down one of his game-high 14 rebounds and hit an easy jumper to give the Falcons a 52-51 lead, their first advantage since they led 9-8 with 13:53 remaining in the first half.

Kent State's defense responded with a steal by Singletary to set up a three-pointer by Gates that put the Flashes back on top for good, 54-52, with 5:54 left to play. Gates then stole the ball from Martin Samarco, who finished with a game-high 26 points, and Scott hit two free throws after being fouled by Dusan Radivojevic. Another Gates three-pointer extended the Golden Flashes' lead to 59-52 with 3:52 remaining in the game.

A Samarco three-pointer cut Kent State's lead to 59-58 with 1:17 on the clock but Smith converted two free throws to push the lead back to three with 44 seconds remaining. The Falcons turned to Samarco again in the final moments but a double-team by Haminn Quaintance and Gates led to a turnover that sealed the victory.

"That was just big, especially the one with 44 seconds to go," Christian said about the Golden Flashes' defense down the stretch. "That's a situation we've been in three or four times and I thought tonight we just, everybody stayed solid, nobody left their feet, everybody kept the ball in front of them and that's what you have to do. Samarco was shooting the ball so well you just got the feeling if he was going to get it off it was going in, but we stepped up and that's what you have to do; you have to find a way to win especially in MAC play. That was a huge stop and a huge win."

The victory improved Kent State's home record to 6-1 this season and was the second straight over the Falcons. The Golden Flashes travel to Ball State on Wednesday.

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