Although he had been struggling and foul-plagued, Kent State senior guard Trevor Huffman showed why he is his school's all-time leading scorer.
With the Golden Flashes down 71-70 and less than a minute left, he drove hard to the basket for a layup that sparked a hard-fought 78-73 overtime win against Pittsburgh in the NCAA South Region semifinals Thursday night at Rupp Arena.
"I'm just glad I had the opportunity to take a big shot the last second of the game," said Huffman, who finished with 17 points, five after halftime.
The 10th-seeded Golden Flashes (30-5), who have won a nation-best 21 straight, became the first Mid-American Conference team to reach the Elite Eight. They play Indiana in a surprising South Region championship game matchup on Saturday.
"Down the stretch, our leadership and our experience made the difference," Kent State first-year coach Stan Heath said.
Kent State led 29-23 at the half and still led by that same margin in the second half when Pitt standout junior guard Brandin Knight hit a driving layup and then a 3-pointer to cut the Kent State lead to 59-56.
Senior Chad Johnson's layup and sophomore guard Julius Page's jumper gave third-seeded Pitt (29-6) a 60-59 lead with 3:37 left. But Golden Flashes senior forward Eric Thomas hit a baseline jumper, two free throws and then a 3-pointer in a 69-second span for a 66-62 lead.
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, however, each score to tie it with 53 seconds left.
Junior forward Antonio Gates seemingly hit a short shot for Kent State, only to have the officials rule he had been tied up and the alternate possession went to the Panthers with 25 seconds to go. Page missed an offbalance shot, however, to force overtime and set the stage for Huffman's big shot.
"It was a screen and role, nothing fancy," he said. "I actually thought I missed it."
Knight tried to answer but missed a drive and then he committed his fifth foul. Gates made both free throws to give him a game-high 22 points. Senior guard Andrew Mitchell, only 3-of-16 from the field for 12 points, sealed it with four free throws in the waning seconds.
But don't call Kent State a Cinderella team _ one sign in the stands said it all: "We don't wear slippers we wear Nikes."
_ Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.