Kent State keeps rolling, 78-73

Golden Flashes oust Pitt in OT, win 21st in row

Ncaa Tournament

March 22, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kent State's crusade for acceptance beyond the Mid-American Conference soared to a new level last night when the Golden Flashes bounced third-seeded Pittsburgh, 78-73, in overtime of a South Regional semifinal at Rupp Arena.

The victory propelled the 10th-seeded Flashes into tomorrow's South final against Indiana, a team they beat a year ago when they started their run to NCAA tournament prominence.

Last night, Kent State (30-5), winning its 21st consecutive game, became the first MAC team to reach the Elite Eight and the first to win 30 games.

Point guard Trevor Huffman saw that as validation of their special place in conference history.

"Coach [Stan Heath] told us before the game that no MAC team had ever done this," Huffman said. "I looked in his eyes, like, `Are you serious?'

"We want to be known on a national scale just like Gonzaga."

Long after Gonzaga left this year's dance, Kent State is still boogying.

Huffman did his part with 17 points, including a runner he banked high off the glass to put Kent State ahead for good in overtime. He also played the last 15 minutes of the game with four fouls.

Antonio Gates led the Flashes with 22 points, making seven of 11 shots. He gave them a force inside with eight rebounds even though Pittsburgh owned a 39-26 advantage on the boards.

"We did a good job rebounding," said Heath, in his first season as Kent State's coach. "I thought that was the biggest key, holding our own."

Despite its size disadvantage, Kent State led by as many as nine points in the first half. Pittsburgh managed to get in the game early in the second half, and even forged three leads. But the Panthers (29-6) were never able to pull away, and in the end, they needed a controversial official's call to get to overtime.

Pittsburgh's Brandin Knight (18 points) had just tied the game with 52 seconds left in regulation on a driving layup.

At the other end of the floor, Gates got off what appeared to be a go-ahead jumper, only to be called for a jump ball. Heath couldn't believe what he saw and heard.

"I saw Gates go up for the shot, hang in the air, and the whistle blew," Heath said. "I assumed it was a chance for a three-point play. When he [the official] called a jump ball ... that's not what I saw."

Possession went to Pittsburgh, but Julius Page missed a jumper and the game went to overtime.

Kent State then showed why it's won 21 straight games.

The Flashes went 8-for-8 at the foul line, and finished 21-for-25 in free throws.

Overtime ultimately turned on Huffman's banked shot with Pittsburgh ahead 71-70.

"It was a screen roll, nothing fancy," Huffman said. "Actually, I thought I missed it. I thought I put it too high."

It dropped, though, and moments later Knight fouled out. Gates hit two free throws, and Andrew Mitchell made two more to open a 76-71 Kent State lead.

Pittsburgh answered with a put-back by Ontario Lett, but Kent State iced the game when Mitchell hit the final two free throws with 5.5 seconds remaining.

Now one step away from the Final Four, the Golden Flashes have a chance to make an even bigger statement. A year ago, they beat Indiana in a first-round tournament game that started them on the road to some renown.

"We know Indiana is a different team than they were last year," Huffman said. "They're tough-minded and they have tough players. Jared Jeffries is as talented as they come. It will take a big effort for us to beat them."

Only now, no one will be surprised if Kent State does it again. The Golden Flashes have earned their acceptance.

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