TOLEDO _ Right now, it's an incredibly tough and distasteful pill to swallow.
A sour showing on the Mid-American Conference's main stage. A disturbingly stagnant effort on offense, which couldn't be overcome. A bitter end to an otherwise promising season, brought on by a disappointing performance in the biggest game of their young collegiate lives.
Yet someday soon, the Kent State men's basketball team will be better off because of the lethal dose of defeat the group was forced to choke down during Tuesday night's 64-59 loss to Miami in the MAC Tournament semifinals at the SeaGate Centre in Toledo.
Better off because of the invaluable lessons swallowing that repulsive pill has taught them.
"I felt coming in here we could win, but I also knew we'd be better off just by playing here no matter what happened," said Kent State coach Gary Waters. "You have to understand what tournament basketball is all about before you can be good at it, and now we have a better understanding.
"But we weren't ready for this tonight. And it showed."
It showed primarily in the scoring column.
The Flashes (13-17), coming off their most explosive offensive performance of the season last Saturday against Akron (95 points), obviously forgot to reload their guns.
After shooting a season-best 62 percent from the floor against the Zips, they shot blanks for 40 full minutes against the RedHawks (17-11) _ 26 percent from the field in the first half, 39 percent in the second and 32 percent overall.
"Obviously, we didn't play to our potential, primarily on the offensive end," said Waters. "Defensively, I thought we did a pretty good job, but we just didn't shoot the ball well. Our goal was to avoid shooting from the perimeter, but that's what they made us do. I give them credit for that."
Despite clanking 16 of their first 20 shots from the floor, the Flashes somehow trailed just 12-11. And a dunk by forward Geoff Vaughn gave them a 13-12 lead with 10:31 to play in the opening half.
But it didn't last long.
Sophomore guard Anthony Taylor, who lit Kent State up in the first two games this year for 39 points, did his fair share of damage again. Taylor (game-high 22 points) hit a jumper that put Miami ahead for good, and added a layup and 3-pointer during a 17-3 run that put the RedHawks in control.
After bombardier Nate Meers hit a 3-pointer to bring the Flashes within 18-16, Kent State went scoreless for nearly five minutes while Miami built a 29-18 lead.
The Flashes trimmed the lead to a more workable 31-23 count by halftime. But the offense, without leading scorer Kyrem Massey (suspended), continued to spit and sputter.
The veteran RedHawks, seemingly unfazed by the absence of head coach Charlie Coles (still hospitalized after suffering a heart attack during last Saturday's game against Western Michigan), held the Flashes scoreless for the first four minutes of the second half while increasing their advantage to 38-23.
Kent State's press never phased the RedHawks, although their defense continually dazed the Flashes _ who never scored a single fastbreak point.
"We just couldn't get into any flow," said Waters. "John (Whorton) was somewhat effective inside (14 points), but we couldn't get him enough touches. Our guards (John Callaway and Jose Davis, combined four points) couldn't get anything going. And Ed (Norvell) was really struggling."
Norvell, the player the Flashes tend to rally around, couldn't buy a basket. He shot a woeful 3-of-17 from the floor for 10 points.
"I feel like I let the team down," said Norvell. "None of us did what we were supposed to do, but I'll take most of the blame. That's probably the worst I've ever shot."
Still the Flashes remained in the area code by keeping Miami's big guns _ Wally Szczerbiak (18 points, 4-of-11 field goals) and Damon Frierson (1-of-5 field goals, nine points) from getting out of hand.
And even though their offense was reduced to putbacks (15 offensive rebounds, 22 second-chance points) and 3-point bombs by Meers down the stretch, the Flashes managed to crawl within 61-55 with 44 seconds left after the former Stow star (19 points, 5-of-12 3-pointers) drained trey No. 5 of the night.
But a turnover cost KSU a chance to cut the lead to four, and two free throws by Szczerbiak with 19 seconds left ended all doubt.
But the loss hasn't ended a single shred of hope according to Waters.
"We talked about coming here ready to play and not just happy to be here," said Waters. "Still, I think that's what happened tonight. But this is a very young team. We don't lose anybody and we're gaining some key guys, so we'll be ready to deal better with this a year from now.
"And we'll be back. I tell you that as a fact."