Kent State Elated With Basketball Team Among NCAA Elite Eight

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

KENT, Ohio (AP) - The day before college spring break always has its own sense of euphoria, but nothing like the elation at Kent State on Friday with the Golden Flashes one of the last eight teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.

That's never happened before.

"It's just awesome," said Cayl Garrett, a 19-year old freshman in Lake Hall, a campus dormitory.

He and about a dozen friends crammed into one dorm room Thursday night to see Kent State's 78-73 overtime victory over Pittsburgh in the South Regional semifinals.

"It was crazy. Everybody was running up and down the halls yelling and screaming. It's just a feeling like it's so good now to go to Kent State," Garrett said.

At the Kent State Shop inside the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center, coordinator Diane Bramley said Friday she was struggling to keep sweat shirts, T-shirts and other school merchandise in stock. One T-shirt simply bears the number 8.

"It's been more than crazy. The place has been packed all day."

Kent State advances to a Saturday game with Big Ten basketball powerhouse Indiana, who stunned top-seeded Duke 74-73 Thursday night. The Golden Flashes beat the Hoosiers 77-73 in the first round of last year's tournament.

"My voice is all hoarse from screaming last night," said Meghan Fresh, a 20-year-old sophomore. "It's great because it's like being part of history. I'm saving everything, T-shirts, pamphlets, everything, because it's a once in a lifetime thing."

Kent State's success also has special meaning for the Mid-American Conference, which is struggling to increase its prestige. The last, and only time, the MAC had a team in an NCAA regional final was in 1964, when Ohio University made it. The Bobcats lost to Michigan, 69-57.

The conference hopes to be able to send at least two teams to the NCAA tournament each year instead of one, conference spokesman Gary Richter said.

Kent State's 30 wins is a record for any MAC team, as is the team's current 21-game winning streak.

"All the publicity they are giving to the MAC is unequaled in our history," Richter said. The MAC is in its 56th year as a conference.

"It legitimizes what we've been saying, that this is a good basketball conference. With Kent State going this deep, it gets attention.

"The Golden Flashes are no flash in the pan," Richter said.

Kent State senior guard Trevor Huffman said after scoring 17 points in the win over Pittsburgh: "We want to be one of the best MAC teams ever. We want to be known on a national scale, just like Gonzaga and other schools that have to earn everything they get."

The school is probably best known for the deaths of four students who were shot by National Guardsmen during a during a May 1970 anti-war protest.

"This is such an incredible opportunity to show that there is more than that to Kent State," said Sheryl Smith, director of campus life at the university.

Kent State has a residential population of about 6,000, but many of the university's 22,800 students live nearby, meaning there may be many a basketball party Saturday despite the fact that school is out of session.

Celebrations in other college towns have turned rowdy, and the Kent City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to strengthen a crowd dispersal law aimed at breaking up off-campus parties that get out of hand.

The measure doesn't go into effect until April 19, two weeks after the national championship game.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)