After dominating play for the better part of 35 minutes, Loyola of Maryland flat out wilted under the intense heat generated by the Golden Flashes' new-fangled pressure defense, which spearheaded a 16-0 run down the stretch that lifted Kent State to a come-from-behind 83-72 non-conference victory over the Greyhounds at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center Saturday afternoon.
The Flashes (2-2) trailed 41-30 after a lackluster first half, and were still down 69-65 with 5:33 to go before the effects of their constant pressure finally began to take their toll on a thin Greyhounds squad (0-4).
"I told the kids there were two reasons we won this game," said Kent State coach Gary Waters, whose squad forced 37 turnovers _ including 21 in the decisive second half. "The first was defense, and the second was conditioning. We definitely wore them down. I told these kids in the offseason that we were going to be the best conditioned team in the country and we work very hard at that. It showed today."
The Flashes needed every ounce of energy they could muster to overcome a talented Loyola backcourt ... and a slew of their own mistakes.
Loyola junior shooting guard Mike Powell, who entered the game averaging 27 points per game, scored 15 in the first half while cat-quick sophomore point guard Jason Rowe harassed the Flashes on both ends in the first half (10 points, 3 steals).
Two free throws by Powell gave the Greyhounds a 23-21 lead they increased to 41-30 by halftime, as Kent State turned the ball over seven times in the final seven minutes.
The Flashes coughed the ball up 19 times overall in the first 20 minutes, shot a mere 39 percent from the floor and made just 6-of-12 free throws.
"Still, we were only down by 11," said Waters. "That tells you the opportunity is there."
Waters stressed the importance of ball security at halftime.
"Our goal going in was to hold them to 40 percent shooting from the field," said Waters. "In the first half they shot 50 percent, but most of their shots were layups off of turnovers. And you can't defend against that. We just had to take better care of the ball."
Kent State's guards, which shot a combined 0-for-17 from the floor in last Tuesday's blowout loss at St. Bonaventure, continued to struggle in first half (2-of-12 field goals, 13 turnovers). But a 3-pointer by junior captain Scott Effertz finally seemed to lift the Flashes out of their funk.
Effertz' trey trimmed the deficit to 51-42 with 15:29 remaining. And the Flashes' press promptly generated two more buckets to trim the margin to 51-46, as freshman forward Kyrem Massey recorded both steals and fed guard Ed Norvell for both layups.
"I just try to use my long wingspan," said Massey, who finished the game with 7 steals. "I try to make them throw the ball around me, because they can't throw it through me. And our big men also did a good job of setting the traps."
Massey was the key component to the press, according to Waters.
"The player that was outstanding in the press was Kyrem," said Waters. "He got his hands on probably 15 balls and deflections are something we stress. He did a great job of that."
Loyola momentarily thwarted the rally, as Powell (game-high 28 points) drained a 3-pointer and center Roderick Platt (10 points, 8 rebounds) added two free throws to increase the lead to 67-60. But Kent State made one last charge that the Greyhounds couldn't turn back.
Two free throws by freshman center Mike Perry (Barberton H.S.) brought Kent State within two, then Massey tossed in a layup following a turnover to tie the game at 69.
Perry then nailed a jumper to put the Flashes ahead to stay with 4:16 remaining, and Kent State (56 percent shooting in the second half) continued to pour it on as the visibly exhausted Greyhounds trudged around the floor with their hands on their sides.
Effertz canned another 3-pointer, and Perry added a bucket and two free throws as the Flashes built a commanding 81-69 advantage with 44 seconds remaining. Loyola was held without a field goal for the final 5:33 of the game and shot just 32 percent from the floor in the second half as Rowe was held to a single point.
"Our intensity was great in the second half," said Waters. "But the thing is, we're still only playing well 10 or 15 minutes a game. We need to play that way 30 or 40 minutes to be competitive and we'll get there. This team will be 10 times better than this in January."
Effertz hit 4-of-5 3-pointers and scored all 14 of his points in the second half. Perry finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Massey matched Perry with 18 points, and also piled up 7 assists and 7 steals. Sophomore forward John Whorton chipped in 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.