Third time the charm for Flashes

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

AKRON _ Perfection? Nah, don't kid yourself.

Contrary to popular belief, the Kent State men's basketball team didn't need to churn out an unfeasible, 100-percent error-free effort to knock heavily favored backyard rival Akron out of the Mid-American Conference tournament.

The Golden Flashes did not play the perfect game, yet they still managed to pull off a stunning 95-88 upset victory over the same Zips squad that had wrecked them twice earlier this season in front of a packed house full of flabbergasted fans at JAR Arena Saturday afternoon.

The win propels sixth-seeded Kent State (13-16) into the semifinals of the MAC tournament for the first time since the 1988-89 campaign. The Flashes will take on No. 7 Miami of Ohio, which defeated No. 2 seed Western Michigan 67-63, Tuesday at 9 p.m. at the SeaGate Centre in Toledo.

Mistakes were made on occasion ... although Zips coaches, players and supporters alike are probably having a tough time right now recalling a single one made by a player in a bright yellow uniform.

"They played a perfect game," said Akron sophomore forward Ryan Andrick, pausing between words for emphasis. "They played the game of their lives."

Andrick's assessment is well-warranted, but not quite accurate.

Kent State poured in a season-high 95 points by shooting a season-best 62 percent from the field. The Flashes drained 9-of-18 3-pointers, shot a respectable 71 percent from the free-throw line (20-of-28) and garnered assists on 22-of-33 baskets.

Perfect? No. Superhuman? Well ...

"This was just their day," said Akron coach Dan Hipsher. "They executed well, played extremely well and all their shots went in. We're a good defensive team, but we just couldn't get them stopped."

The Flashes, determined to step up the pace after fighting two unsuccessful halfcourt battles against the Zips (17-10), started pressing and running when the opening whistle sounded and never stopped.

And the change of pace produced drastically different results.

"People will say beating the same team three times in a season is tough, but that's not what happened today," said Kent State coach Gary Waters. "The reason we won was that we played our game. The last two games we played a halfcourt game, which is what they do best. Today, I told our kids we were going to play 11 people and press for 40 minutes.

"I thought if we pressed them, their legs would get tired and they'd have trouble shooting. I think that happened. And we were able to get some steals and easy baskets out of the press as well."

Kent State went on a 9-0 first-half run to take a 24-12 lead following a 3-pointer by reserve Al Moore. The Zips fought back, trimming the KSU lead to 32-30 following a steal and layup by Jimmal Ball that brought the crowd to its feet.

But Jose Davis promptly drained a 3-pointer, one of two in the final three minutes of the first half that halted Akron rallies and allowed Kent State to stay in front 38-35 at the half.

"When the games are big, Jose has the ability to take it to another level," said Waters. "Those were two huge baskets."

Still, the Zips had to feel pretty good about their position at the half: trailing by just three despite a 63-percent shooting effort by the Flashes. All they seemingly had to do was wait patiently for what has become a typical Kent State second-half scoring lull, which allowed Akron to take control of the game in the first two meetings.

Not this time.

Instead, the Flashes slowly extended the lead to 61-46 following a layup by Ed Norvell at the 12-minute mark and maintained a relatively safe cushion for the remainder of the contest, although things did get hairy on occasion.

The two teams slugged it out down the stretch, waging a brutal physical battle on both ends. The most telling blow was delivered by Kent State freshman Kyrem Massey, who floored Akron's Jami Bosley with a shot to the head. That allowed sharpshooter Nate Meers (Stow High School) to spring open, and he canned a 3-pointer that gave the Flashes a 79-71 lead with 3:42 remaining.

Akron made one last run, cutting the deficit to 81-75 after a Bosley layup. But the Flashes sliced through the ensuing Akron press, with Davis feeding John Whorton for a breakaway dunk that all but sealed the Zips' fate.

Davis then made six straight free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.

Several individuals flirted with perfection for the Flashes, namely Whorton. The sophomore center, who has been plagued by inconsistency all year, made all 12 field goals and finished with a career-high 27 points.

"I established my position down low, and I knew if no one doubled me I could score every time," said Whorton. "I just got deep position and shot layups."

Davis was perfect from the line (8-of-8) and hit 3-of-4 3-pointers on his way to a 19-point performance, while Norvell's all-around effort was near perfect: 21 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and tremendous defense.

"We go as Ed goes," said Waters. "He does it all for us ... he's the MVP of what's going on here."

While the Flashes are surprisingly moving on, the Zips are left to ponder a shocking loss that mars an otherwise exceptional season.

"I couldn't have coached a better team," said Hipsher. "They busted

their butts every day, and we had a great year. The year we had does not

get erased by this one loss."

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