Kent State climbs out of 13-point hole to stun Saint Mary's

MORAGA, Calif. -- Saint Mary's felt it was snubbed by the NCAA tournament. Now there's nothing left to grouse about after Kent State sent them home from the National Invitation Tournament.

Justin Greene made the go-ahead layup with 3 seconds remaining, and Kent State overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to stun Saint Mary's 71-70 in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night.

"This is probably one of the biggest wins of my career," Greene said. "To do it on the road, against a team that was in the Top 25 for most of the season, to do it in the situation we did it, it was just great."

Things couldn't have evaporated any more quickly for one of the darlings of last season's NCAA tournament.

Mickey McConnell's raced up court in the final seconds and missed an unimpeded layup attempt just before the buzzer, falling to the floor with several Saint Mary's players in disbelief.

"At first, it was just kind of weird, it doesn't fall into perspective yet," said McConnell, red-faced and teary-eyed as he emerged from the locker room more than an hour after the game. "But when you're sitting there, it's kind of an emotional time. You're just sitting at your locker thinking you're not going to be in that situation again with a group of guys you've been together with for so long."

Michael Porrini scored 19 points and Carlton Guyton had 13 for the Golden Flashes (24-11), who missed out on the NCAA tournament with a loss in the Mid-American Conference title game to Akron. They seemed headed for a double-digit loss against the Gaels until the final minutes of regulation, when a furious rally culminated in a stunning victory that left the Saint Mary's faithful silenced.

Rob Jones had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Matthew Dellavedova added 16 for a Saint Mary's (25-9) team that was oh-so close to a return trip to the NCAA tournament and surely felt deflated.

They had a late-season overtime loss to Gonzaga on their home floor -- coupled with an ugly loss to lowly San Diego -- and had to split the West Coast Conference's regular season crown with the Zags. Saint Mary's also fell to Gonzaga in the WCC tournament final that would have clinched an automatic spot in the NCAA tourney.

"Tough loss. Proud of our guys, proud of what they've done. Tough to end it like that," said Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett, who was so upset at the NCAA selection committee Sunday he went as far as to suggest that basketball should adopt a system similar to college football's often-lampooned BCS formula for choosing teams.

"Tough break on selection Sunday," Bennett added. "We kept plugging through. Hope to have more teams like these guys."

The Golden Flashes made eight of their first 11 shots and sprinted out to a seven-point lead. The Gaels came back in a hurry, going on a 14-2 run that was highlighted by two steals and two layups from Stephen Holt to give them a 34-28 lead.

Then Dellavedova had a 3-pointer and followed it with a pass that zipped through the paint to give Kenton Walker II an easy layup during a big second-half push that put the Gaels ahead by 13 points. The lead seemed too much for Kent State to overcome, but the Golden Flashes showed perhaps they were the ones who might've belonged in the marquee tournament.

The Golden Flashes will play in a second-round matchup against Fairfield, which beat Colorado State 62-60 earlier Tuesday. The date of that game wasn't immediately scheduled.

"That's how it's been all year," Kent State coach Geno Gord said. "We're not the best shooting team, we're not the best rebounding team, we didn't lead our league in a single category but wins. Our kids just keep grinding."