Kent State basketball coach Rob Senderoff breathed a sigh of relief minutes after the conclusion of practice Sunday night.
The Golden Flashes were preparing to play visiting Fairfield (Conn.) in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament Wednesday at the M.A.C. Center.
Originally the game was scheduled for Tuesday, but it had to be postponed because Fairfield had issues with their flight. The game was rescheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Senderoff was pleased with a spirited practice that gave him hope this year’s postseason performance will be more successful than last year’s when an uninspired Golden Flashes team fell behind South Carolina Upstate by 18 points at halftime en route to a 73-58 loss.
“We had a much better practice than I would have thought we would,” Senderoff said, regarding the Flashes having lost to rival Akron in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals last Friday. “I was really happy with how they worked today.”
That’s good news considering the KSU athletic department opted to shell out $35,000 to host the 7 p.m. first-round game. Last year, it passed on the price tag.
“[Sunday night] we talked about the commitment to the program by the school and about trying to make sure we don’t go out like we did last year,” Senderoff said.
One more chance for seniors
What the game and tournament come down to is a final opportunity for seniors Randal Holt and Chris Evans and experience for the younger players.
But for Senderoff, pride plays a big part in wanting to do well in the little-known tournament.
“With a win, we have a chance to match last year’s win total from a veteran-laden team,” Senderoff said. “That says a lot about how hard this young team fought to turn things around after a slow start.”
Senderoff also has an eye to the future in terms of what the CIT exposure can mean in the long run.
“Some of the teams that have played in these events — Butler and VCU — in particular, have gone on the next year to have great seasons,” he said. “So you want to play as well as you can play. And anytime you have an opportunity to play against somebody else — if you’re a competitor — you’ll play as hard as you can.”
The Stags (19-15) aren’t unfamiliar opponents, having faced Kent State (20-13) most recently in the 2011 National Invitation Tournament. The Flashes topped the Stags 72-68 in the second round in Bridgeport, Conn., with Holt posting 22 points.
Like Kent State, Fairfield lost in its tournament’s semifinal round this season. Manhattan College topped the Stags 60-42 on March 10 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament.
“They’re a good team,” Senderoff said of the Stags, who are playing in the CIT for the third time in the past four years. “They play like Eastern Michigan defensively, but by playing all man-to-man. So, they’re a really good defensive team. Their guards can really guard the ball well and they make it very difficult for you to get off threes.”
One such guard is four-time All-MAAC selection senior guard Derek Needham, who leads the Staggs at 14.4 points per game.
“Needham’s a great, great scorer,” Senderoff said. “He was a handful the last time we played them.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.