CLEVELAND—Kent State advanced to the Mid-American Conference tournament championship game for the eighth time in 13 years with its 79-68 win over Ball State at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday.
The Golden Flashes got hot in the first half, taking clean shots and focusing on hitting the paint hard with big men Justin Greene and Justin Manns, who scored 20 and 10 points, respectively. Greene, who with his game-high 12 rebounds, ended the game with a double-double.
“I’m just playing. (It) doesn’t matter if I get a double-double or if I get 9 and 8,” Greene said. “Stats will be stats.”
Even though Ball State’s center Jarrod Jones had an outstanding game, knocking down 22 points to go along with his 11 rebounds, Kent State’s tough defense and rebounding proved to be too much for the Cardinals.
“It was a good battle. (Jones) is first-team all conference. I just wanted to match his intensity and help my team get a win,” Greene said. “We wanted to make sure anytime a shot went up we got a body on somebody and got the rebound.”
Ball State cut Kent State’s lead to 65-63 with 4:34 left to play, but Greene took control of the paint again and scored on a lay-up to increase the Flashes lead to four. As the momentum started to build, guard Rodriquez Sherman picked the pocket of Cardinal’s guard Randy Davis for an easy fast break finger-role to push the score to 69-63 with 3:53 left in the game.
“In the second half both teams were able to grind defensively,” stated Kent State coach Geno Ford. “We made some key plays late.”
Michael Porrini helped Kent State stretch the lead late in the game with some outstanding passing to set up teammates. Porrini finished the night with 15 points, 9 boards, and 8 assists.
“I’m just out there playing basketball just like the rest of my team,” Porrini said. “We all want to win and not go home. We had two steps in the way, now we have one with Akron tomorrow. No matter what I have to do, no matter what my players have to do. Regardless--it’s win or go home.”
Akron will test the Flashes Saturday night, as the teams split the two regular season match-ups.
“For the players, the focus is on getting to the NCAA tournament. That’s been the focus all week,” Ford said. “One of us will win, whoever that is will be jumping around with the banner.”
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