By Nick Shook
Don’t mail it in on the Kent State men’s basketball team in 2014 just yet.
Yes, they’ve lost six of nine games.
Yes, they are currently last in the Mid-American Conference East Division standings.
As much as these two facts might drive a fan to leap off the bandwagon and hit the ground running, I’m here to tell you that it’s too early to give up on them.
History proves that the Flashes tend to hit their stride at this time of the season. Don’t believe me? Look at the last two seasons.
In 2012-13, the Flashes lost five of their first seven MAC games. On Jan. 30, 2013, the Flashes were 12-10 overall and 2-5 in the MAC. Kent State then won eight of its final 10 games, all of which coming in conference play. This included a win over heavily favored Akron at the hostile James A. Rhodes Arena to finish the regular season.
Kent State rode the hot streak all the way to the MAC Tournament semifinals before losing a hard-fought game against Akron. The Flashes finished the season at 21-14 overall.
In 2011-12, Kent State went 10-6 in conference play before losing to Akron in the MAC semifinals. The Flashes finished 21-12 overall, losing in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament at South Carolina Upstate.
What does this have to do with this season’s Flashes? Well, if history serves as an indicator, Kent State will likely catch fire again at just the right time. It’s a hallmark of a program steeped in winning tradition.
This year’s team doesn’t boast one or two star players, but instead a collective group of players who, if all playing well at the right time, can beat almost anyone.
This was on full display Jan. 26 when the Flashes held a small lead on the road against arguably the best team in the conference. Although Kent State eventually fell to Toledo 81-78, it was a very encouraging sign for a team that looked downright awful in a home loss to Western Michigan on Jan. 23.
The close defeat signaled a team effort that this squad needs to succeed. If most of the roster is playing well, they can and will surprise more than a few folks with some unexpected victories. They started the season by going 8-1 before a home loss to Bucknell snapped the winning streak.
This same type of play resurfaced in Toledo.
Kent State returned home Wednesday for a game against Northern Illinois, a team that has been a doormat in the MAC in recent years and presented a very winnable contest. The Flashes fell in a disappointing display of second-half effort.
However, when the Flashes hosted Akron on Saturday night, it marked a new start for the team. Head coach Rob Senderoff wiped the slate clean, declaring Feb. 1 the start of a new season. The team even took a new team picture during practice the day before the game.
Kent State took the floor on Saturday with a new energy that hasn’t been seen in at least a month. The Flashes battled the Zips for all 40 minutes of the game, coming away with a 60-57 upset victory that resulted in a court storming and pure euphoria emanating from all corners of the M.A.C. Center.
A road trip through Michigan is up next and will be a moment of truth for the Flashes. Two wins against Central and Eastern Michigan can give Kent State much-needed momentum heading into the final stretch of conference games.
The biggest question surrounding the Flashes was their heart and interest in playing winning basketball. Despite the loss to Toledo, Kent State showed it wasn’t ready to pack it in on the remainder of the season. And, with Saturday’s big win over Akron, the Flashes are 1-0 in February and appear ready to continue playing winning basketball in the coming weeks. Based on their performance and the way they carried themselves Saturday, they aren’t ready to give up on the season.
And neither should you.