March 11, 2006
CLEVELAND (AP) - Four years after crashing the NCAA tournament, Kent State is on its way back looking to do more damage.
Senior Kevin Warzynski scored 21 points and made two huge baskets when Kent State was barely hanging on, and the Golden Flashes won the Mid-American Conference tournament 71-66 over Toledo on Saturday night to earn the MAC's automatic NCAA bid.
Kent State (25-8) never trailed but had to withstand two furious comebacks by the Rockets (20-11), who closed within 69-66 with 20.5 seconds left. However, Kent State, which improved to 23-0 when leading with 5 minutes left, survived.
Armon Gates made two free throws with 13.3 seconds left, and senior DeAndre Haynes broke out of Toledo's press and dribbled out the clock. After the horn sounded, Haynes had just enough time to execute a nifty gymnastic move at mid-court before he and his teammates were swarmed by an avalanche of Kent State fans.
Warzynski, the tournament MVP, and fellow senior Nate Gerwig rolled around the floor like a couple kids as the party got started.
Mike Scott added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Haynes had 12 points for the Golden Flashes.
Justin Ingram had 16 points and Kashif Payne 14 for Toledo.
Kent State hasn't been in the NCAA field since 2002 when a team featuring seniors Trevor Huffman, Andrew Mitchell, Demetric Shaw and Antonio Gates - now a Pro Bowl tight end for the San Diego Chargers - was one of the last eight teams alive.
This year's Kent State squad is a lot like that one: experienced, defensive-minded and balanced.
Some say these Golden Flashes might even be better than their more heralded alumni.
Kent State followed up winning the regular-season title by taking its fourth MAC tourney title - and first under coach Jim Christian, voted the league's top coach in 2005-06.
The Golden Flashes did it with depth and a smothering defense that grounded the Rockets (20-11) for 30 minutes.
Toledo, down by 18 in the second half, came charging back and closed within 60-57 on Anton Currie's steal and layup with 3:18 to go.
But Warzynski, the MAC's top sixth man, grabbed a rebound and scored on a putback to give the Golden Flashes some breathing room. After a Toledo turnover, Warzynski then backed inside and scored again to make it 64-57 with 1:56 remaining.
Ingram missed a 3-pointer for Toledo, and Haynes, who had two sub-par games to start the tournament, drained a pair of free throws. On the Rockets' next trip, Toledo's Keonta Howell was sent sprawling under the scorer's table and had to be helped to the bench.
Still, the Rockets weren't done and three consecutive 3-pointers - two by Ingram - in 31 seconds gave them one last chance. However, the Golden Flashes were able to do just enough to get themselves an NCAA invitation.