Anyone that wants to say Kent State was lucky won't get an argument from coach Gary Waters.
His Golden Flashes scored just three points in the final 7:15 and missed the front ends of two one-and-ones in the last 35 seconds, yet still managed to hold on for a mammoth 71-70 victory over a downright scary Ohio squad Wednesday night at the MAC Center thanks in big part to a little good fortune down the stretch.
But Waters believes he knows why Lady Luck chose his side.
"I think we deserved to win because we worked harder," he said. "I told our guys before the game that there was no way we'd beat this team with great shooting, because we've been shooting poorly. I said we wouldn't win by being more physical, because they're much bigger than we are.
"I said the only way we'd win was to out-work them, and I give our guys all the credit in the world because they did it. Now, I'm just glad it's over."
Pulling this one out required a near-Herculean effort by the Flashes (14-5, 7-4 MAC), who had to overcome themselves, the Bobcats and the officials over the course of the evening to secure the win.
The Bobcats (13-6, 8-3) threatened to shoot Kent right out of its own gym early on, as forwards Shaun Stonerook (9 first-half points) and Sanjay Adell (13) ignited a 22-2 run that put the Flashes in a 31-18 hole with 7:34 left in the first half.
But they managed to nearly dig themselves out of it.
A dunk by Eric Thomas off an assist by Ed Norvell _ his sixth of the first half _ brought the Flashes within 41-38 at the break even though they were thoroughly outshot (55 percent to 45 percent from the field) and outrebounded (21-12).
"Adell is just real tough to stop when he's close to the basket," said Waters, "but I didn't think we did a good job on Stonerook. We kept letting him drive right down the middle and break us down while we scrambled back from our press.
"At halftime we changed our press. We just kept them in front of us, because I didn't think they could score much unless we kept trying to trap them."
Defense kept the Flashes close until they finally caught fire.
Kent hit 10 of its first 13 field goals to start the second half, including a 3-pointer by Norvell (13 points, 7 assists) that gave the Flashes a 49-48 lead. First-year point guard Andrew Mitchell (16 points) then hit 3-point bombs of his own to start and end a 14-4 run that put Kent on top 68-58 with 7:15 left.
At this point the home team seemed to have this one well in hand. But a string of questionable calls quickly turned a routine victory into a barnburner.
"Things just went haywire," said Waters, whose squad was called for 10 fouls compared to Ohio's three in the first 16-plus minutes of the second half. "Bodies were flying all over the floor ... You people saw the same thing I saw out there. And when it happens at home, I struggle with it."
The Bobcats led 70-69 with 1:56 remaining after Diante Flenorl hit two free throws, but they failed to take full advantage of their opportunities from the stripe (8-of-14 in the last 10 minutes).
Junior center John Whorton, a 62 percent free-throw shooter, answered with two charity tosses of his own as Kent regained the lead with 1:07 left.
Then, after Whorton (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Trevor Huffman both missed the front ends of one-on-ones to give Ohio life, those same whistles the men in stripes used to effectively wipe out Kent's 10-point lead were swallowed when it mattered most.
Stonerook (19 points, 9 rebounds) raced to the basket, barreled through a mass of bodies in the lane and tossed up a shot that crashed off the backboard as time expired. He tumbled to the floor as his teammates begged for a foul, but no call was made.
"I give the officials credit on that last play," said Waters. "They let things go the whole game, so they can't make a call on the last play of the game. They've got to be consistent, and they were."
Kent State 71, Ohio 70
Blocked shots _ Ohio (4): Flenorl, Stonerook, Reed, Flomo; Kent State (4): Massey 2, Mitchell, Callaway. Turnovers _ Ohio, 14-12. Technical fouls _ None. Attendance _ 3,175.