Kent State reaches fourth round for first time

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Don't talk about Kent State in fairy tale terms. One sign in the stands Thursday night said it all: "We don't wear slippers ... we wear Nikes."

Talk about a Cinderella story -- Kent State, from the Mid-American Conference, is now in the Elite Eight!

This sets up a one-year-later rematch with Indiana. Hoosiers fans (as well as fans of the Golden Flashes) will remember that Indiana was upset by Kent State in the first round of last year's NCAA Tournament.

Kent State guard Trevor Huffman scored 17 points despite foul trouble, helping the Golden Flashes get to the winner's circle for the 21st straight time (the nation's longest winning streak). Huffman scored the go-ahead basket in overtime on a driving layup.

The Golden Flashes turned the ball over just 12 times against Pitt's tenacious defense. And they were clutch on the foul line (19-of-23). more...

The 10th-seeded Golden Flashes played smothering defense and

slowed the tempo at every opportunity to stun No. 3 Pittsburgh

78-73 in overtime in the South Regional semifinals.

Kent State (30-5) never had advanced beyond the second round of

the NCAA tournament before this year. Now it's one victory away

from the Final Four after knocking off higher-seeded Oklahoma

State, Alabama and Pittsburgh to stretch the country's longest

winning streak to 21 games.

"This is definitely a validation of our place in history,"

said Trevor Huffman, who scored 17 points. "We want to be known on a national scale, just like Gonzaga and other schools that have to earn everything they get."

Antonio Gates scored 22 points for the Golden Flashes, who made six straight free throws in the extra period against the Panthers (29-6).

"Our experience really paid off for us tonight. We never

panicked," said Huffman, one of four seniors on the Mid-American

Conference team. "We're still trying to reach that perfect game.

We don't want to stop here. We have a long way to go."

Kent State plays fifth-seeded Indiana in Saturday's regional

final. The Hoosiers upended defending national champion and

top-seeded Duke 74-73.

Brandin Knight, the Big East's co-player of the year, and Julius

Page each scored 18 for the Panthers, who were trying to reach the

final eight for the first time since 1974.

Stan Heath is leaving Kent State and heading to Arkansas.
Stan Heath is leaving Kent State and heading to Arkansas.
Reuters

"They played with poise down the stretch and we had to execute," said Kent State first-year coach Stan Heath, an assistant to Tom Izzo on Michigan State's 2000 national champions. "We had to make big shots and we did it."

Pitt came into the game with a reputation for stifling defense,

but the Golden Flashes showed from the opening moments that they

could put the clamps on, too.

Kent State forced 17 turnovers -- 11 in the first half -- and made

it hard for Knight and Page to get open looks on the perimeter.

"They did an excellent job defensively," Pitt coach Ben

Howland said. "I don't think we ever really bounced back after the

turnovers we had in the first half. You've got to give Kent State a

lot of credit."

Knight tied the game at 66 with 52 seconds remaining in regulation. Following a Kent State turnover, Page's long 3 from the corner bounded off the rim as the buzzer sounded, sending the game to overtime.

Gates hit a jumper inside to open the extra period, and Ontario

Lott matched it with a basket at the 4-minute mark.

Pitt went up 71-70 on Jaron Brown's free throw with 1:11 to

play. From that point, Huffman made a high-banking layup off the

glass, and Gates and Andrew Mitchell each added two free throws to

push the margin to 76-71 with 21 seconds to play.

Mitchell, only 3-of-16 from the field for 12 points, added two more free throws in the closing seconds to seal the victory.

Kent State led 29-23 at halftime, but Pitt soon closed the gap

and eventually went up 45-43 on Donatas Zavackas' 3-pointer midway

through the second half.

From that point, each team would surge ahead by two or three

points, only to see the other recover and regain the lead.

Gates' jumper put Kent State up 59-53 with 5½ minutes to play,

but Knight's 3-pointer keyed a 7-0 run to put the Panthers up 60-59

with 3:35 remaining.

"We knew they had the capability to make big runs and they did," said Gates, who made seven of 11 shots and had eight rebounds. "But we emphasized defense and were able to stop them in some key situations."

Down 66-62 at the 2-minute mark, Pittsburgh forced OT by

shutting out Kent State the rest of regulation, while Page hit a

layup and Knight scored inside to tie the game at 66.

Pitt's defense gave up just 60 points a game during the season

and an average of only 52 in its tournament victories over Central

Connecticut State and California.

Tough, physical defense by both teams led to a first half filled with missed shots and sloppy play.

Pitt turned the ball over six times and had only six field goal

attempts in the first 8 minutes as Kent State jumped to a 15-10

lead.

The Golden Flashes, though, hit just five of 14 shots over that

stretch. Huffman went 3-of-4, including a long 3-pointer.

For the half, the Panthers shot only 38 percent and turned the

ball over 11 times after averaging only 11 turnovers in their

previous two tournament victories.

Kent State shot just 33 percent but managed seven steals and

scored nine points off Pitt turnovers in the half.

"I told my team if people look at the definition and who Cinderella was ... she was a girl who no one gave anything to," Heath said. "She tried to find a way to get to the dance and when she did, she got the prince.

"So I said, 'You know what? If they're saying we're a

hard-working team, a team that's going to fight to get to where we

want to be and then we'll get the prize ... all right. We'll be

Cinderella."'