Men's team ends five-game skid with comeback victory

By Allen Moff Record-Courier sports writer Published:

Chalk one up for determination, guts and perseverance. Those three attributes had a great deal more to do with the Kent State men's basketball team's gut-wrenching 65-63 upset victory over previously red-hot Western Michigan at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center Thursday night than the squad's ability to pass, dribble and shoot the basketball with precision. But that certainly didn't matter in the least to any of the Golden Flashes (5-10, 2-3 MAC), who were just thrilled to bring their discouraging five-game losing streak to an abrupt end. "This was a big win," said a relieved Kent State coach Gary Waters. "We told the guys that we had to win this one if we were going to have a chance to be in the (MAC East Division) race. And I have to give our guys credit, because they never let down. That was the key." An all-out effort from the opening tip to the final buzzer allowed the Flashes to overcome a slew of turnovers and other mental mistakes and claim this blue-collar battle, marred by a combined 52 turnovers and 47 fouls. After coughing up the basketball 110 times in the past five games, Kent State promptly turned the ball over on its first four possessions against Western Michigan _ three by junior point guard Ed Norvell, who had been struggling more than anyone. The miscues continued to pile up for the Flashes, who had 10 just over seven minutes into the game. But fortunately for the Flashes, the Broncos (9-4, 3-2) were equally inept, with 10 miscues of their own. Kent State trailed just 23-18 following a three-point play by former Barberton High School standout Mike Perry. But reserve guard Kylo Jones, who entered the contest averaging two points per game, promptly drained two 3-pointers and a layup to give Western Michigan a 31-18 lead with 4:12 left in the first half. At this point, the situation certainly looked grim for Waters' troops. "I didn't know if we could win at that point, but I felt we could get back in it," said Waters. "Why? Because it didn't have anything to do with them. We were just literally handing them the basketball, just as we have the past six games." The lead eventually reached 35-18 before the Flashes regrouped to close the half behind freshman forward Kyrem Massey, who scored six points during an 8-0 run that brought Kent State within 35-26 at halftime. The rally seemed to give the Flashes a second life. "Someone forgot to communicate to Kent that the game was over," said WMU coach Bob Donewald. "They just kept on battling." After a layup by Broncos star Saddi Washington put them up 41-30 the Flashes, who made just 1-of-6 3-pointers and 10-of-24 field goals overall (42 percent) in the first half, suddenly caught fire from the outside. Norvell, who hadn't drained a 3-pointer since the second game of the season, hit a trey to cut the deficit to 40-33, then Jose Davis hit a 3-pointer to bring Kent State within six. Norvell (15 points, 3-of-3 3-pointers) later connected once again from long range to culminate a 15-4 run that tied the game at 44 with 10:43 remaining. "I told the guys before the game that it was time for me to step up," said Norvell. "I look at this as me coming out of a year-long slump." A see-saw battle ensued, with Massey (18 points) hitting a 3-pointer to tie the game at 55 and Washington tossing in a runner to tie it for a final time at 59 with 3:17 remaining. Perry than made another of several crucial plays down the stretch, soaring above a pack in the lane to tip in a missed shot by Norvell to give Kent State the lead for good. "I saw the ball on the rim and I saw a lane," said Perry. "It all just came down to who wanted it more, I guess." Washington, Jason Kimbrough and Rashod Johnson each missed a 3-pointer for the Broncos, while John Callaway made 1-of-2 and Davis 2-of-2 free throws to put Kent State up 64-59 with 35 seconds left. But the game was far from over. Reserve forward Isaac Bullock hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 64-62, but Callaway hit 1-of-2 charity tosses once again to put the Flashes on top 65-62 with 21 seconds left. Washington (21 points, 0-of-6 3-pointers) split a pair from the line to cut the lead to two with 17 seconds left, and Norvell missed two free throws to give Western Michigan life. But Perry took a charge from Bullock with 8.9 seconds left to give Kent State the ball back. "I knew he wanted to go to the middle, because our coaches said he goes there every time," said Perry. "So I tried to anticipate that. I saw him duck his shoulder, I felt contact and I fell. It was a big call." Norvell was fouled again, and promptly missed two more free throws to give the Broncos one last chance. But Washington's runner in the paint clanked off the backboard as time expired. The Flashes shot 55 percent from the floor and made 5-of-6 3-pointers in the second half. But most importantly, they turned the ball over just eight times while Western Michigan piled up 14 more miscues to finish with 29. "Turnovers in the second half were the biggest key," said Waters. "Ed handled the ball much better in the second half (no turnovers). And we played them tough and physical, and I think that effected their play." Kent State will host Central Michigan (3-10, 1-4) Saturday at 2 p.m.

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