KENT: After a slow first half Wednesday, Kent State players seemed to decide that even though it wasn’t part of the coveted NCAA Tournament, it was still worth winning a postseason game.
So the Golden Flashes shrugged off a lethargic beginning and rode the play of senior guard Randal Holt to a 73-71 victory over Fairfield in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Proving he’s not ready to see his career end, Holt jump-started the offense early in the second half with 3-point baskets and then used a driving layup with 3.4 seconds remaining to give the Flashes (21-13) the last-second victory.
The winning shot came moments after Fairfield’s best player — senior guard Derek Needham — nailed a 3-pointer that tied the score at 71-71 with 16.2 seconds remaining.
“Coming out of the timeout, we were up three and we didn’t want to give them a three,” said Holt, who led KSU with 18 points.
“I’m not sure what happened, but Needham broke free of everybody and was wide open for three and knocked it down.
“So out of the next time out, Coach drew up a play for me. I saw how [Needham] was playing me, he was baiting me to go left. So I went left and was able to get all the way to the rim and I just put it up there.”
With the Flashes’ reserves playing well — and seeing more playing time than usual — junior guard Bryson Pope contributed 10 points and junior center Mark Henniger added a career-high 10 rebounds along with eight points.
But it was Holt’s effort that aided the Flashes the most. Already the school’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, Holt’s three 3-pointers against Fairfield also made him the school’s single-season 3-point leader with 88.
“Randal Holt, what can you say?” asked KSU coach Rob Senderoff.
“It’s just what Randal does.”
Needham led all scorers with 22 points, followed by a career-high 18 points by freshman forward Coleman Johnson and 10 from freshman forward Marcus Gilbert. The Staggs ended their season 19-16.
“It was just yet another game where he showed he’s one of the greatest Fairfield players to ever put a jersey on,” Staggs coach Sydney Johnson said of Needham. “He struggled in the first half and we talked to him at halftime and said, ‘Hey, we need you to make some shots, we need you to be there for us.’ And he’s done it time and time again.”
In the first half, the intensity level of both teams seemed to lag.
The Flashes started the game with 2-of-10 shooting from the field. But as the shots began to fall, KSU went up by as many as 15 points before settling for a 10-point lead at halftime.
The CIT follows the old National Invitation Tournament model in which future opponents are determined by the results of the previous round. The Flashes expect to learn today who will be their next opponent and when they will play.
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.