Gary Waters wasn't about to be overly critical of a winning effort. Still, he wasn't exactly passing out droves of praise after his Kent State men's basketball team turned back a spirited challenge from an undermanned but stubborn Central Michigan squad Saturday afternoon at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center. The Golden Flashes led by just one point at halftime, but took advantage of its overwhelming superiority in height and athleticism to outscore the Chippewas 50-36 in the final 20 minutes and earn an 84-69 Mid-American Conference victory that they simply had to have to ultimately stay in the East Division title hunt. Waters had a sneaking suspicion that his team may struggle against a foe like the Chippewas (3-11, 1-5 MAC). "To sum it up, we played down to our competition level," said Waters. "Not to take anything away from Central Michigan, because they certainly play hard, but our game relates to the competition level we face. And that's what happened today." The Flashes (6-10, 3-3) did indeed have a surprisingly tough time taking control against the struggling Chippewas, especially in the first half. Kent State jumped out to a 20-14 lead following a 3-pointer by Jose Davis, but the Chippewas answered with an 8-0 run to take a brief lead of their own. A layup by Aaron Brown put Central Michigan up 22-20 with 6:22 left in the first half. The Chippewas, who start a 6-foot-5 center in Dan Schell and have just two players over 6-5, canned 3-of-6 3-pointers to open the game and actually outrebounded Kent State 13-12 in the first 13-plus minutes. "We put a lot of emphasis on Central Michigan, because we knew we didn't match up with them well," said Waters. "They have all those guards running around the floor that can shoot and break you down. And if they start hitting a few shots and getting rebounds, they can cause a lot of trouble. "We wanted to jump on them early like Akron did. But we didn't do it." The Chippewas, who were routed by Akron 76-49 last Thursday, continued to wreak havoc throughout the first half, hanging around virtually through shear effort alone. A layup and free throw by Kyrem Massey put Kent State up 34-30, but Central Michigan closed the gap to 34-33 in the waning moments of the half. When Brown hit a jumper to open the second half to give the Chippewas a 35-34 lead, the Flashes appeared to have a dogfight on their hands. Instead they rose to the challenge behind sophomore forward Geoff Vaughn, who bulled inside for a layup then picked off a pass and fed Massey for a layup that gave Kent State a 41-37 lead they would never relinquish. "Geoff definitely gave us a lift," said Waters, who started Vaughn in place of John Whorton in the second half. "We put him in, and we went back up by 10 just like that. Geoff's been a role player, but he can score inside. When he concentrates, he can do some things." Kent State proceeded on a 15-4 run culminated with a 3-pointer and jumper by Davis that put the Flashes on top 49-39. But the Chippewas refused to fold. Three-pointers by Brent Larson and Brown (16 points) kept them within striking distance, as CMU trailed just 55-49 with 8:51 remaining. But Massey (game-high 22 points) struck back with a pair of crucial 3-pointers to extend the lead to 63-51 at the 6:48 mark. "Those 3-pointers by Massey really put the staples in us," said Central Michigan rookie coach Jay Smith, who served as an assistant at Kent State under Jim McDonald from 1984-89. "We started fouling in the last six minutes because they're a 58 percent free throw shooting team, but that didn't work out." The Flashes' backcourt, anchored by Davis and John Callaway, took over down the stretch. Callaway, who entered the game shooting 38 percent from the foul line, nailed 7-of-10 in the final six minutes to keep the Chippewas at bay. Callaway scored 11 of his career-high 18 points in the second half and hit 13-of-17 free throws overall. "That's the most comfortable I've felt in a long time," said Callaway, who transferred to Kent State this season. "I've been struggling from the free throw line, but I just had to concentrate a little better. We knew if we made our free throws, the game was over." Meanwhile Davis was a steadying influence at point guard for the Flashes, finishing with career-highs of 17 points and nine rebounds. The win was the second in a row for Kent State (6-1 at home). And Waters doesn't want the streak to stop their. "Our goal heading into (last) Thursday's game against Western Michigan was to win at least five in a row," he said. "I don't know if we can do it, but you have to set goals to strive for. And we had to have these two home games to give ourselves a chance."