MORAGA, Calif. (AP)—No one on Jim Christian’s coaching staff had ever seen Al Fisher play in person when Kent State offered him a scholarship last August. The Golden Flashes have liked everything they’ve seen from Fisher ever since.
Fisher scored 28 points and Kent State held No. 23 Saint Mary’s without a basket for more than 6 minutes down the stretch to bolster its credentials for a possible at-large bid to the NCAA tournament with a 65-57 victory over the Gaels on Saturday night.
“It definitely gives us a lot of recognition,” Fisher said. “A lot of people say we weren’t getting as much as we should. We came in here and got a quality win against a top 25 team. Hopefully that will put us on the map.”
Fisher is a big reason why, averaging 21 points during a six-game winning streak for the Golden Flashes (23-5).
He was searching for a school last summer after spending one year at Siena and another at Redlands Community College in Oklahoma. After talking to Fisher’s junior college coach, Steve Eck, Christian offered Fisher a scholarship.
“We did our homework. We did our research but we never saw him play live,” Christian said. “I’m glad he’s with us. No one would expect what he’s given us. He’s been a tremendous player all year.”
The Golden Flashes are in first place in their division in the Mid-American Conference. But because the MAC hasn’t received an at-large bid since 1999, Kent State needs to do everything it can before the conference tournament to create a safety net.
Beating a ranked team in the regular season for the first time in school history will surely help. Especially on the road in an ESPN BracketBuster game.
“For us it was a great opportunity to play a ranked team in their building,” Christian said. “It’s an excellent basketball team that I think will get to the postseason and do damage. For us it was a great opportunity to step up and solidify our season a little bit. But our whole goal is to win the MAC conference.”
Fisher’s clutch play down the stretch overshadowed a dominant performance by Diamon Simpson, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds for the Gaels (23-4). Saint Mary’s had won six straight and was 14-0 at home this season.
Haminn Quaintance scored down low to give Kent State the lead for good at 56-55 with 3:29 to go. Fisher added a hanging drive and then scored on an acrobatic reverse to make it 60-55 with 51.4 seconds remaining. Mike Scott added a pair of free throws before Lucas Walker’s layup with 26.8 seconds left cut the lead to 62-57.
That was Saint Mary’s first basket since Tron Smith scored with 6:56 to go to make it 53-47. Saint Mary’s went 0-for-5 with two turnovers in the stretch and had Simpson and Patty Mills miss front ends of one-and-ones.
“We were all careless when we had a chance to separate,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “But credit them. They made shots down the stretch and we didn’t.”
With wins over Drake, Oregon and Gonzaga and an RPI of 26, the Gaels are still in good position for an at-large bid if they fail to win the West Coast Conference tournament. Their immediate concern is health.
Starting center Omar Samhan left in the first half with a shoulder injury and did not return, Walker hurt his shoulder late and Simpson needed stitches after the game. With key conference games coming up against San Diego and Gonzaga, the Gaels need to get healthy soon.
Mills, the Gaels’ leading scorer, was held to five points on 2-for-11 shooting as Saint Mary’s struggled to find offense from anyone other than Simpson. Saint Mary’s shot just 3-for-16 on 3-pointers after making 17 of 29 on Monday against Pepperdine.
“We’re a team that averages more than eight 3-pointers a game,” Bennett said. “We have to be better than that. We had some good look. We have to knock them down.”
Quaintance added 11 points and Scott had 10 for Kent State.