No, it certainly wasn't the game-winning shot Randal Holt dreamed of. But it still felt pretty nice.
Kent State's senior guard made his final game at the M.A.C. Center a memorable one by flipping in a layup with three seconds remaining to give the Golden Flashes a 73-71 victory over Fairfield in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on Wednesday.
Holt scored 15 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, helping Kent State (21-13) overcome a huge rally by the stubborn Stags (19-16). The Flashes advance to the second round of the CIT, where they will travel to face Loyola-Maryland (22-11) on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Holt had two chances to put Kent State up in the closing seconds of last Friday's Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinal loss to Akron, but missed a pair of 3-pointers. This time, he put the ball on the floor, dribbling hard to his left then flipped in the game-winning layup with his right hand.
"Coach (Senderoff) drew up a one-four flat play for me. I saw how (Stags senior guard Derek Needham) was playing me, he was baiting me to go left, and I was able to get all the way to the rim and just put it up there."
The celebration afterward was nothing like it would have been last Friday had Holt connected against the Zips, but it did put smiles on the faces of the Flashes and their fans.
"It was a feeling of joy, seeing that this may be our last time playing here and we were able to go out with a win," said Holt, who set a school record for 3-pointers in a season with 88, ousting D.J. Bosse (1996-97). "We get to keep our season alive. It was just a great feeling doing it in front of our home fans, playing in front of those guys one more time. It was a feeling of joy."
Fellow senior Chris Evans shared in that joy, even though he did not play the final 14:47 of the game. Evans was visibly hobbled by an ankle injury in both the Akron game and again on Wednesday night. He was actually in a walking boot the Monday before the MAC Tournament, and did not practice that Monday or Tuesday.
Following Thursday's spectacular 25-point, 15-rebound performance in the win over Buffalo, Evans went 1-for-11 from the field and scored just six points in the loss to Akron.
Evans finished with six points and two rebounds in 15 minutes of action against Fairfield, but would not admit he was injured following Wednesday's game.
"I think coach (Senderoff) was just going with the guys that really had the flow going in the second half," he said. "The guys had it going in the second half, and I had no problem doing what's best for the team. It's no injury."
Senderoff smiled when told of Evans' reply to the injury inquiry.
"Chris isn't 100 percent. I don't think he wants anyone to feel like that's an excuse," said Senderoff. "He keeps fighting through and trying to help us. If we have any chance to continue to advance in this tournament, we'll need him to play well."
Junior reserve Bryson Pope stepped up in Evans' absence, producing 10 points, five rebounds and three assists off the bench. Junior forward Mark Henniger scored eight points and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, while fellow junior Darren Goodson duplicated the effort with eight points and 10 boards.
Evans was actually the 10th player to break into the scoring column for Kent State after splitting a pair of free throws with 46 seconds to play in the first half to put his team up 36-24. The Flashes had led by as many as 15 before settling for a 36-26 halftime advantage despite shooting 28 percent from the field (9-of-32) and hitting only 1-of-7 3-pointers.
They built the lead by being the aggressor on both ends of the floor.
Kent State dominated the glass 31-15, including a 14-2 edge on the offensive boards, and drew 15 Fairfield fouls that resulted in 24 trips to the foul line. The Flashes outscored the Stags 17-5 from the stripe, and held them to 33 percent shooting from the floor (9-of-27).
Holt and Evans were both 0-for-4 from the field in the first half. They caught fire quickly in the second half, which was no surprise, but the Stags' sudden barrage of 3-pointers stunned everyone.
Evans hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to open the second half, and Holt later drained a 3-pointer to keep the lead at 10. But Fairfield, which entered the contest shooting 31 percent from long range, nailed 4-of-5 bombs to open the second half, including a Needham 3 that brought the Stags within 48-44.
Made baskets allowed Fairfield to unleash a full-court press that caused major problems for the Flashes, who suddenly were back on their heels.
Kent State managed to fight off the first few Fairfield charges, but Needham hit a jumper to cap a 6-0 run that tied the contest at 64-64 with 3:21 to go.
Holt drained a 3-pointer to put Kent State up 67-64 with 2:10 to play. The lead was still three after Goodson connected on one of his patented runners in the paint from about 12 feet, making it 71-68 with 35 seconds to go, but Needham quickly responded with a game-tying 3.
"Coming out of the timeout, we were up three and we didn't want to give them a 3," said Holt. "I'm not sure exactly what happened, but Needham broke free of everybody and was wide open for a 3 and ended up knocking it down."
Holt then let the clock wind down then made his move with about six seconds left, flipping in the game-winner with 3.4 seconds to go. Needham -- a near 1,900-point scorer for the Stags, who poured in a game-high 22 points -- was able to unleash a desperation heave from near halfcourt at the buzzer, but it was not close.
"Randal Holt again. That's just what he does," said Senderoff. "He wills our team."
Last year, Kent State's will was questioned after the season ended with an embarrassing 73-58 loss in the first round of the CIT at South Carolina Upstate. But this year, the Flashes were able to ring their victory bell, then walk down the sideline slapping hands with fans as they exited.
"We came into this tournament with the right mindset, and I think having a home game helped us out a lot. I really appreciate that," said Holt. "We're still playing for a championship, regardless if it's the CIT, whatever it is."