Every member of the patchwork lineup Kent State men's basketball coach Gary Waters trotted on the floor during Thursday's Mid-American Conference battle with West Division power Toledo knew exactly what had to be done to make a game of it.
They all simply had to rise to the occasion. And rise, they did.
The Golden Flashes, led by substitute signal-caller Jose Davis, parlayed a determined team effort and a sub-par performance by the heavily-favored Rockets into a stunning 70-67 victory before 1,639 slightly astounded fans at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.
Kent State (9-13, 6-6 MAC) pulled the upset virtually without backcourt starters Kyrem Massey (out indefinitely) and Scott Effertz (seven minutes, two points) thanks mostly to Davis, who poured in a career-high 20 points and ably steered the Flashes down the stretch.
But everyone contributed to the cause, as Waters was quick to point out.
"Jose stepped up big for us," said Waters. "But I have a tough time singling anyone out, because everybody came out and played well as a team. I told every player before the game that they had to add something of their own to what we were doing out there, and they all pretty much came through."
And they call came through at key times.
Kent State, playing its first game without leading scorer Massey, couldn't muster one iota of offense in the early going as Toledo quickly grabbed a 6-0 lead. But junior Ed Norvell (14 points) tossed in two layups to give the Flashes the jump-start they needed.
Al Moore (eight points, career-high 10 rebounds) then came off the bench and tossed in a finger roll that gave the Flashes an 8-7 lead which they kept for the remainder of the half. Kent State increased the lead to seven (22-15) following two free throws by Davis before eventually settling for a 30-26 halftime advantage.
Kent State's press flustered the Rockets (13-7, 8-4), who committed 15 first-half turnovers and shot just 32 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. But Toledo stayed close by dominating the boards, as super-center Casey Shaw pulled down nine himself to help the Rockets pile up a 27-14 advantage.
Shaw scored nine points in the first seven minutes of the second half to keep Toledo close, but Kent State still led 47-40 after Davis drained a 3-pointer. The Rockets then countered with a 9-2 run to tie the game at the 9:50 mark on a layup by Joel Howard.
At this point, the Flashes desperately needed a basket. And who did Waters turn to? Nate Meers, of course.
The former Stow High School standout continued his torrid shooting run despite being hounded by Toledo's Art Norman. First he hit a 3-pointer following a KSU timeout to put the Flashes back on top, then he later dialed long distance on back-to-back possessions to give Kent State a 64-57 cushion with 4:41 remaining.
"They had a couple of quick guys on me, but I just needed to work harder and be more assertive," said Meers, who canned 4-of-5 3-pointers to finish with 12 points. "I didn't feel I played hard enough in the first half, but I knew if I worked hard my shot would be there."
Still, Toledo refused to fold. Two free throws by Chad Kamstra and a layup by Robert Kizer put the Rockets right in the thick of it, as they trailed just 64-61 with 2:14 remaining.
But Davis promptly stepped up and delivered the decisive blows.
First he hit a short jumper in the paint, then he hit 4-of-4 free throws _ both sets following 3-pointers by Toledo's Clayton Burch _ to keep Kent State on top down the stretch.
His final two charity tosses with 24 seconds left gave Kent State a 70-67 lead, and it stood up as Kamstra's desperation heave at the buzzer fell short. The shot certainly wasn't the one Toledo coach Stan Joplin drew up in the huddle with 6.6 seconds left.
"That last play was indicative of how we played the whole game," said Joplin. "That was a terrible display of basketball on our part. You'd have thought we were 3-8 instead of 8-3. Kent wanted the game more than we did."
Meanwhile, Davis couldn't help but recall a few fond football memories afterward.
"It was just like football," he said. "Big-time players want the ball in the last seconds, so I wanted to have the ball in my hands."
Davis, thrust into the starting role due to a knee injury suffered by Effertz in practice on Monday, finished with 20 points, five assists and four rebounds, and turned the ball over just once in 33 minutes from his quarterback (point guard) position.
"That's what I'm most proud of," said Davis, like a typical QB. "One turnover."
Shaw finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds, but was shut out in the final 13 minutes by a swarming KSU defense. Burch also scored 15 for the Rockets.