Flashes dive into 'March Madness'

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Nothing like diving head first directly into the teeth of 'March Madness.'

That's the leap Kent State men's basketball players and coaches will merrily make this afternoon, when Gary Waters' crew attempts to capture the school's first-ever overall Mid-American Conference regular-season crown by knocking off archrival Akron in the unfriendly confines of James A. Rhodes Arena.

"Whew, that's going to be another tough one," said Waters, with a sigh. "I know Akron's been up and down a little lately, but I promise you they'll be at their best against us. But we're looking forward to the challenge.

"This is what you play all season for, to make these games at the end of the year mean something."

Extra incentive is never necessary when Kent State and Akron do battle, but nevertheless both squads have something special to play for on Saturday.

In the Flashes' case, they can make history by earning their first overall regular-season title in 50 years as a member of the MAC and also secure the MAC Tournament's No. 1 seed.

Meanwhile the Zips can not only crash Kent State's championship party, but clinch an all-important first-round home game in the conference tourney as well with a Bowling Green loss to Miami.

Akron itself was once in the thick of the East Division title hunt. But Dan Hipsher's young Zips have struggled of late, dropping five of their last six contests by an average of nearly 15 points per outing.

Still, Waters considers Akron dangerous for good reason.

The Zips have two solid guards in junior Rashon Brown (13.4 points, 4.2 assists per game) and Emanuel Smith (10.2 ppg), and a pair of lethal outside shooters in 6-foot-5 senior Nate Schindewolf (14.2 ppg, 43 percent 3-pointers) and 6-7 junior David Falknor.

Falknor, who returned to action on Wednesday after missing four games due to a toe injury, shoots a MAC-best 55 percent from 3-point range (44-of-80).

"Akron played us hard at our place earlier this year (a come-from-behind 73-61 KSU win), and they're always going to play us tough in their gym," said Waters. "But we're not going to get caught up in winning, because that's when we start thinking too much and stop playing Kent State basketball."

Akron will likely try sit back in a zone defense and hope the Flashes don't catch fire from the outside like they did on Wednesday, when they shot 59 percent from the field while rolling up 99 points on Buffalo.

"We told our guys (before the Buffalo game) to just play free," said Waters, "and that's what we're going to do again on Saturday."

Now is certainly not the time to play uptight according to Kent State senior forward Kyrem Massey, since 'March Madness' will continue no matter what happens today.

"These are just basketball games," said Massey. "The real nitty-gritty starts next week (in the MAC Tournament) at Gund Arena, when you're in a do-or-die situation. Right now we just want to get everyone clicking, so we go into the tournament with our heads held high ready to play our best basketball."

Tickets are still available for today's battle, which will be televised live on WUAB TV 43 beginning at 2:30 p.m.

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E-mail: amoff@recordpub.net

Phone: (330) 678-5460

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