KENT-- The Gaels from Saint Mary's had a little more toughness, a little more defensive energy, and a lot more Patrick Mills on Thursday night at the M.A.C. Center in a 75-69 win over Kent State.
The loss snapped Kent State's school record 18 game home winning streak and increased the Golden Flashes' losing streak to four games.
Mills, the Australian Olympian guard had 26 points while playing all 40 minutes, was 6-6 from the free throw line, and did a good job defensively on KSU's Al Fisher, the reigning Mid-American Conference Player of the Year.
It looked like it may get away from the Golden Flashes early as the Gaels led by as many as 12, 29-17. Kent State closed the first half on a 13-1 run, led by the inspired play of Brandon Parks, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Six straight points from the 6-foot-10 center brought the Flashes to within three points, before tying it at 30 at the intermission.
It appeared Kent State would ride that momentum into the second half as they took a four-point lead at 42-38 on a three-pointer from Mike McKee at the nine minute mark.
From there the Gaels turned to center Omar Samhan and Mills, along with the board work of Diamon Simpson, who finished with 15.
In last year's game, Samhan left early with a torn labrum. On Thursday night Samhan was playing a good game and relishing the atmosphere.
"They have a great team, great facilities, great fans everything," Samhan said. "It was everything that you would want from a college basketball game. The fans were loud and in your ear the whole time, so I understand why their winning streak is what it is. I wouldn't be surprised if they went on another big one."
Kent State could not seem to get the defensive stop down the stretch to stop the Gaels. Saint Mary's shot 60-percent in the second half.
At the offensive end, with Fisher being denied the basketball by Mills, impatience set in and shots early in the shot clock were hoisted.
Chris Singletary had 16 points and five assists for the Flashes while Fisher scored 14, but on just 5-14 from the field as Mills made life very tough on the Flashes' go to guy.
Kent State head coach Geno Ford was distraught after the game speaking about his team's lack of toughness and defensive presence in this early part of the season.
"We're not good enough to beat a good team right now," Ford said. "We have got to get better."
Kent State will have just one day to prepare for Western Carolina on Saturday. It will be KSU's fifth game in nine days.
BP takes Center stage: Brandon Parks had a career night Thursday with 16 points and eight rebounds, four at the offensive end, and was able to play 28 minutes while staying out of foul trouble while banging in the pivot all evening long with Saint Mary's Omar Samhan. Parks led a KSU surge to close the first half with a dunk, shots in the lane and taking a charge at the defensive end. After receiving a roar from the crowd the last two seasons for just appearing in the game, now the Blue and Gold faithful are cheering the impact Parks is having on the parquet floor at the M.A.C. Center.
Samhan and Parks had a competitive battle going all night long.
"I told him after the game, he gave me a run for my money," Samhan said. "The scouting report said he was a good player, but I didn't know he was that good."
The 16 points was a career high for Parks.
"I guess everybody just has a streak of time and it was just one of those times for me," said Parks, "Everybody seems to have that now and then, it just picks us up and give us a little bit of a boost and I guess today was my turn."
Gaels get revenge: Saint Mary's made it clear that they remembered last year's 57-65 defeat to the Golden Flashes in a game that saw Al Fisher catapult himself and Kent State into the national picture. Fisher scored 28 points and helped give Saint Mary its first home loss of the season to make them 14-1.
"Our guys were ready," Saint Mary coach Randy Bennett said. "We had this game circled."
"The loss last year was still hurting this morning," Gaels guard Patty Mills said. "This was a national championship game for us."
Crowd Noise: Applause goes out to the students and the rest of the 4,218 people who showed up at the M.A.C Center on Thursday night to watch two of the premiere mid-major basketball programs go at it. The fans certainly made it as loud as possible, yelled at Saint Mary's players, and voiced their displeasure at every referee's whistle. It would have been awfully nice to see more fans in attendance at this game. The M.A.C. Center was only 66.6-percent filled to capacity. Geno Ford helped move this game from its originally scheduled date of December 20, in an attempt to make sure the students would be on campus to attend the game. Most of the student section was filled, but plenty of seats were to be had in the chair back section.
Scouts in attendance: It was believed that 12 NBA scouts were in attendance Thursday night to evaluate the talent on hand. Mills, who many people project as a future lottery pick in the draft, was certainly the main attraction. Mills did not disappoint, scoring 26 points while playing all 40 minutes and going 8-17 from the field, 4-7 from the three point line and a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line.
"He's really fast," Geno Ford said of Mills. "He's a good shooter. He's got exceptional speed in the open floor. He'll take an outlet pass and run it down your throat. You blink and he's right on top of you."
Al Fisher struggled to a 5-14 performance from the field while being hounded by Mills all night long.
Scouts from the Mavericks and Cavaliers have been at the M.A.C. Center earlier this year to watch Fisher practice. Certainly Saint Mary center Omar Samhan was being watched closely as he finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, and appears to a polished post player.