Cleveland State is gone in the 2011 NIT Basketball Tournament, but the Kent St. Golden Flashes remain. The Flashes will travel to Bridgeport, Connecticut to face the Fairfield Stags looking to advance to the Quarterfinals and a meeting with No. 1 seed Colorado Buffaloes.
Postseason play has become commonplace for the Golden Flashes, as this is their 12th appearance in 13 years. This is the second straight NIT for the Golden Flashes, and the ninth in their history. In that time the team has collected a 4-8 ledger. One of those victories came in this year’s event, as Kent State defeated Saint Mary’s, 71-70. Kent State was the first team in the Mid-American Conference in 21 years to win back-to-back regular-season titles, but the team eventually fell in the conference tournament championship contest against Akron.
As for the Stags, they claimed just their second ever victory in the NIT and the first for the school since 1973 when they defeated Colorado State, 62-60. This is the sixth appearance in this event for Fairfield, which is 2-5 all- time. Fairfield claimed the regular-season title in the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference, but stumbled in the league’s tournament game, missing out on a chance to join the Big Dance.
Justin Greene was the leader for this Kent State squad all year, so naturally when the Golden Flashes needed a big shot, the veteran forward stepped up and produced. Greene dropped in a layup with three seconds remaining in regulation against Saint Mary’s, capping off KSU’s furious late rally. Saint Mary’s led every step of the way in the second stanza, until Greene scored that basket. Kent State was playing catch up for most of the match, the team still shot a healthy 48.4 percent from the floor and also made 8-of-17 shots from long range. Justin Greene, who led the team on the year with 15.5 ppg and 8.4 rpg, finished with 11 points, while Michael Porrini paced the squad with 19 points. Randal Holt and Carlton Guyton (12.5 ppg) both registered 13 points apiece, while Holt also recorded six rebounds and six assists.
In what was a see-saw battle from start to finish, one player stepped up his game down the stretch to lead his team to victory, and that was Fairfield’s Yorel Hawkins, who scored 10 of the last 11 points for the Stags, leading them to a slim win over Colorado State. Hawkins, who is averaging 10.0 ppg on the season, finished with a game-high 17 points. Ryan Olander (10.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg) added a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Derek Needham the team’s leading scorer and distributor on the year (13.9 ppg and 146 assists) contributed 10 points, to go along with six assists. The Stags were not overwhelming offensively, shooting just 43.1 percent from the floor, while making only 3-of-17 attempts from long range. However, what helped the Stags reach the second round was their defensive performance, as they held Colorado State to just 32.2 percent from the floor, and forced 20 turnovers.
These two teams are very similar considering both programs rely on defense first. Fairfield is slightly better in that area, but the Golden Flashes are more productive at the offensive end.
Kent St. leads the all-time series between to two teams 3-1.