Flashes top Miami, 68-62

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

If you'd have said the Kent State men's basketball team was going to knock off Miami, your buddies may have wondered about you. If you'd have claimed the Golden Flashes would defeat the preseason Mid-American Conference favorite despite shooting a rather atrocious 37 percent from the field, they'd have questioned your sanity. If you'd have predicted they'd overcome a nine-point second-half deficit to earn the victory by virtually stopping All-World Wally "World" Szczerbiak and company stone cold in the final 16 minutes, they'd have called the welcome wagon on the spot. But right now, they'd be calling you a prophet. Because only a higher power could have correctly called the Flashes' stunning 68-62 triumph over the RedHawks Wednesday night at the MAC Center, a tasty victory made sweeter by the hurdles they had to overcome to earn it. "This is a great win," said Kent coach Gary Waters, for lack of a better phrase, after his squad handed Miami (12-4, 7-1 MAC) its first conference loss of the year. "We struggled at times because we couldn't score, but we gave ourselves a chance by keeping Miami down. "The key to the game was our depth. We just wore them down." But the process was a bit agonizing. First, the Flashes (13-4, 6-3) had to withstand Szczerbiak's first-half 16-point, 10-rebound barrage. The 6-foot-8 senior forward drew two quick fouls on Kent sophomore Kyrem Massey to force him to the bench, then single-handedly brought Miami back from an early 10-2 deficit by draining three straight 3-pointers. He added two buckets inside in the closing minutes to help the RedHawks take a 35-33 halftime lead. "That's one of the best halves I've seen anyone play in a long time," said Waters. "But I don't think Wally had the same legs in the second half." He sure seemed to early on, as Szczerbiak connected from long range once again to help Miami push the lead to 44-35 with 16:13 remaining. At this point the RedHawks, who canned seven of their first 11 3-pointers overall, were threatening to shoot the Flashes right out of their own gym. But Massey took it upon himself to stop the onslaught. "I take 95 percent of the blame for our poor start (in the second half)," said Massey, who blew a dunk and committed one of Kent's four turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half. "I was rushing, trying to get back what I missed in the first half." Massey suddenly snapped out of his funk and made a stand. He held Szczerbiak scoreless for over a 16-minute stretch in the second half while the Flashes whittled away at the deficit. He even shoved two shots back in Szczerbiak's face. "I watched how he used screens to get open in the first half, because I knew I'd get another chance at him," said Massey. "I tried to keep my hands off him and pressure him. I wasn't trying to block his shots, I just wanted to contest the ones he did get off." Szczerbiak wound up with a game-high 23 points and 12 rebounds, but hit just 3-of-7 field goals for seven points in the second half. "There were two keys to our defense, Kyrem and Ed Norvell," said Waters. "Szczerbiak couldn't shoot over Kyrem (6-5), and Kyrem was able to stay with him on the perimeter. And Ed completely shut down (Damon) Frierson." Frierson, Miami's second-leading scorer (13 points per game), finished with just five points. "We knew Szczerbiak would get his points, but we had to stop the other guys," said Waters. "They were all hitting threes for awhile, but I didn't think they could keep that up. They had no legs in the second half. Our pressure got to them." Staunch defense eventually jump-started the Kent offense. Junior center John Whorton (10 points, 11 rebounds), playing with a nagging shoulder injury, scored five straight points to give the Flashes a 55-51 lead with 4:17 remaining. Miami crawled within three (59-56) after a three-point play by junior point guard Rob Mestas (17 points) with 1:28 left, but freshman guard Trevor Huffman converted 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute to keep Kent in control. "Trevor's a godsend," said Waters. "He's the most relaxed player I've ever been associated with." The Flashes shot just 30 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes, but hit 19-of-23 free throws. Huffman made 12-of-13 charity tosses on his way to a game-high 21 points, as Kent (26-of-33) racked up a 17-point advantage over the RedHawks (9-of-14) at the foul line. "I'm not complaining about free throws. You make your own breaks, and we didn't make ours," said Miami coach Charlie Coles. "Kent deserved the win. In no way were we as good as Kent tonight."

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