With all that Kent State has accomplished this season, its goal of winning a Mid-American Conference championship still remains the top priority.
Ranked for the first time in school history, the No. 23 Golden Flashes can move another step closer to making that happen when they visit Bowling Green on Saturday afternoon.
Kent State (23-5, 11-2) moved into the rankings after a 65-57 win at then-No. 23 Saint Mary’s last Saturday for its sixth straight victory and first ever in the regular season against a ranked team.
The Flashes, who posted their 10th straight 20-win season and recorded the school’s 1,000th victory in 2007-08, became the first MAC team to secure a spot in the Top 25 since Ball State in 2000-01.
“I am proud of how hard our kids have worked all season and this really gives us a sense of pride now that the program is starting to get some respect on a national level,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “However, as nice as it is, it wasn’t one of our goals for the season. We’ve said all along that our focus the entire year has been to win the MAC championship and nothing has changed.”
With three games remaining, Kent State can clinch a share of the MAC East Division title with a fifth consecutive win over Bowling Green (12-14, 6-7) on Saturday. A win coupled with a loss by second-place Akron on Saturday night would give the Flashes the outright division title for the second time in three seasons.
However, winning the overall regular-season championship should only make the team’s road to the NCAA tournament easier because the result would be Kent State earning the top seed for the MAC tournament.
The Flashes hold a one-game lead over West Division champion Western Michigan for that spot. Though Kent State has the best overall record among league teams, it is anything but guaranteed an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament unless it wins the conference tournament.
Not since Miami of Ohio in 1998-99 has a MAC school received an at-large berth.
The Flashes last won the overall MAC championship and reached the NCAA tournament in 2005-06, their first trip since their memorable run to the regional finals in 2001-02 in Stan Heath’s only season as coach.
Kent State’s victory at Saint Mary’s, though, is certainly one win that will grab the attention of the tournament selection committee.
“It definitely gives us a lot of recognition,” said 6-foot-1 guard Al Fisher, who had 28 points last Saturday and leads the team with 14.4 per game. “We came in and got a quality win against a Top 25 team. Hopefully that will put us on the map.”
Fisher has been a big reason Kent State is starting to get noticed. A transfer from Oklahoma’s Redlands Community College after spending one season at Siena, Fisher averaged 20.6 points in seven games in February.
“I’m glad he’s with us,” Christian said. “No one would expect what he’s given us. He’s been a tremendous player all year.”
Fisher has scored 13 or more points in 12 straight games since being held to eight in the Flashes’ 63-49 home win over Bowling Green on Jan. 12.
The Falcons stepped out of conference for an 81-65 win at Detroit on Saturday to snap a three-game losing streak. Brian Moten had 18 points and Joe Jakubowski 17 for Bowling Green, which scored 80 or more points for the fourth time this season.
One of the three times this season the Falcons were held below 50 points came against Kent State as they shot 42.2 percent from the field and committed 16 turnovers.
Bowling Green has lost two of its last three home games.