TOLEDO _ Almost every aspect of the Kent State-Toledo men's basketball war waged Saturday afternoon at Savage Hall was rough around the edges, to put it mildly.
But Andrew Mitchell, for one, stayed silky smooth.
While bodies were crashing, fans were cursing and coaches were screaming all around him, the Golden Flashes' unflappable junior guard maintained his poise at all times while leading his troops to a monumental 68-54 Mid-American Conference road triumph over the Rockets.
Mitchell tossed in a team-high 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and helped hold Toledo freshman phenom Terry Reynolds to just four points, 10 below his average. But perhaps most importantly, Mitchell kept his teammates from losing their heads when several clashes broke out during a hectic second half.
"When we played here two years there was a skirmish, and we didn't respond well to it (and lost)," said Mitchell. "(Today) was the same situation. Everything went haywire, but this time we said we were going to respond the right way. And we did."
Toledo (13-8, 5-5) was forced to flip into desperation mode after Kent State (15-6, 8-2) closed the first half with a 10-0 run to grab a 32-17 lead. The Rockets, who nearly broke into the Top 25 after opening the season 12-3, were on the verge of losing their fifth game in six outings and any hopes of capturing the Mid-American Conference regular-season crown.
But they weren't about to go down quietly.
Since its halfcourt offense was in shambles, Toledo tried to press and hack its way back into the ballgame. And it worked for a while.
The Rockets used a physical full-court trap spearheaded by rangy 6-foot-8 forward Greg Stempin to force three straight turnovers on Kent State's end, which led to seven quick points that cut the Flashes' lead to 37-30.
"We knew this was not going to be a soft game," said Kent State coach Gary Waters. "We knew we were going to have to get down and dirty."
At that point, the war was on.
Toledo crawled to within four points briefly, and trailed just 46-39 at the 11:19 mark when Flashes senior Kyrem Massey (13 points) and Rockets junior Albert Wilson exchanged elbows and attempted to trip one another underneath the Toledo basket. A double-foul was called, and Waters and Rockets mentor Stan Joplin immediately began shouting at the officials.
Then, suddenly, the two coaches began bellowing at one another and had to be restrained by their assistants.
"You'll have to forgive me for that," said Waters. "Things got a little hectic, and I got a little out of control. Stan and I are good friends."
Joplin wasn't nearly as apologetic.
"I was just standing up for my team," he said. "Some things went on out there that I didn't like. I'm not going to say anything about the officials, but they left a lot to be desired."
The Rockets continued to hang around, as an alley-oop dunk by Stempin brought them within 48-43.
But Mitchell answered with a pair of free throws and a nifty runner over 6-11 Toledo center Craig Rodgers to put his team back in control.
"Andrew does whatever he has to do for us to win," said Waters. "He can score if that's what it takes. He averaged 25 points per game in high school."
Moments later a loose ball situation turned ugly. Players took turns diving on top of one another trying to gain possession, but the ball kept squirting loose.
Finally Stempin was whistled for a foul on Mitchell, even though Rodgers lost part of a tooth during the exchange.
"The fans were yelling, the coaches were yelling, everyone was yelling," said Kent State guard Trevor Huffman.
"I was just trying to keep everyone calm, because this was a big game for us," said Mitchell. "I thought we handled it well."
Mitchell swished two free throws, then Huffman buried a 3-pointer that increased Kent State's lead to 58-45 and sapped all the fight out of Toledo.
Huffman (16 points) and Mitchell combined to outscore the Rockets' starting backcourt 40-9, which offset Stempin's monster 26-point, 11-rebound effort.
Kent State 68, Toledo 54
Blocked shots _ Kent State (3): Perry 1, Mitchell 1, Huffman 1; Toledo (0). Turnovers _ Toledo, 17-15. Technical fouls _ none. Attendance _ 7,021.