With 5:42 left and Kent State leading Hiram 81-51, freshman center Kalin Bennett checked into the game.
The crowd roared.
Two minutes later, he scored the first points of his college career on a post hook move over forward David Smith, who also fouled him on the play. Bennett clapped and let out an emphatic scream. He chest bumped freshman guard Giovanni Santiago near halfcourt as freshman guard Sentwali Nalls, freshman forward Jon King and junior forward Anyeuri Castillo high fived him.
“A lot of kids dream of getting their first college bucket like that,” Bennett said. “So for it to go in, for me, I was really happy.”
Coach Rob Senderoff even admitted that the basket meant something.
“A year ago, I wouldn't have even thought twice about it because when we signed Kalin, I didn't realize what exactly was happening in terms of a bigger picture,” Senderoff said. “I’m a parent and a coach, so to see that and know the impact that this has had on a lot of people (means a lot). I'm not going to pretend like it doesn't mean something to me. It does.”
Bennett became the first player on the autism spectrum with a Division I basketball scholarship to score in a game.
The large crowd, who had stuck around to watch Bennett play, erupted.
They had been clambering for him since the 10-minute mark of the second half, chanting—
“We want Bennett!”
“I didn’t hear that at all,” Bennett said. “I was paying attention to what was going on on the court. I was cheering (my teammates) on. I wasn't paying attention to the crowd at all.”
Bennett went on to say that he appreciated the chants.
“But for that to happen, that's a really good feeling,” Bennett said. “The crowd was great tonight and we got the dub.That's what matters.”
Near the end of the game, coach Rob Senderoff put his arm around Bennett during a timeout.
“I do not recall that conversation,” Bennett said with a laugh.
“That was not a conversation,” Senderoff said with a laugh. “That was a yelling at. It was about a jump shot he took (and air-balled).”
Bennett didn’t mind it.
“It’s good to get yelled at,” Bennett said. “I mean, you don’t want him to say nothing to you. As long as he’s saying something to you that makes you feel good as a player, the last thing you want is for him to say nothing to you at all.”
Senderoff also added that he enjoyed the moment.
“I'm glad that he did something that I can try to coach him to not do,” Senderoff said. “That's all part of improving as a player. Trying to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do and sticking to your strengths. It's a good moment. I'm not going to pretend it's not. I feel really happy and proud for him, and I’m glad to be a part of it because I know it means so much to so many people.”
After the 97-58 win, Bennett rang the Victory Bell.
“I didn't even know I was going to ring the bell,” Bennett said. “I thought it was going to be like Troy (Simons) or Danny (Pippen), but they told me to ring the bell. That was a really good, exciting feeling. Hopefully, it's not the last time.”