Flashes lose to Miami, 73-60

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

OXFORD _ The Millett Hall scoreboard read Miami 73, Kent State 60 as the final buzzer blared, but don't be fooled.

It wasn't that close.

The stat sheet seems to show the Golden Flashes shot a semi-respectable 42 percent from the field, but don't get the wrong idea.

Kent State couldn't buy a basket when it truly mattered.

The Flashes' effort to wrestle a share of the Mid-American Conference title away from the RedHawks Wednesday night in 'Wally World' proved utterly fruitless, but don't shove 'em aside quite yet.

They'll be back, says Kent State coach Gary Waters.

"We came down here to win a championship, no doubt about it. But that just didn't happen," said Waters, whose squad fell short in its bid to earn the school's first-ever MAC men's basketball championship of any kind. "But this was just one game, and I truly believe that. Sure it's disappointing, but right now I'm not overly concerned because these guys will bounce back.

"We just didn't play our game, and that happens. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't."

On this night, the Flashes flat-out didn't.

The first half was a maddening 20-minute stretch Miami (20-6, 15-3 MAC) used to take complete control of the game, mostly by rendering Kent State's offense utterly helpless.

The Flashes (20-6, 13-5) missed 14 of their first 19 shots and were fortunate to trail just 27-19 with 3:33 to play in the half.

That's before the man of the hour, Wally Szczerbiak, picked off an Ed Norvell pass, raced to the other end of the floor and tossed in a layup with Kent State's Andrew Mitchell clinging to his arm.

Szczerbiak completed the three-point play to increase the lead to 11, a more appropriate amount.

"As bad as we struggled, we had a chance to cut it to six," Waters recalled. "Instead, we turn it over and Wally gets a three-point play. That was the key play. We had to hit a basket in that stretch, but we couldn't."

Oh, so true.

Kent State shot a frigid 28 percent from the field in the first half, and everyone contributed to the iron abuse.

The starters couldn't buy a basket. The reserves didn't deliver their usual spark, failing to score a single point. No one in blue and gold could get the ball inside to junior center John Whorton (0-of-2, 1 point), who the RedHawks effectively swarmed.

And a boisterous Senior Day crowd of 8,791 couldn't get enough.

"We lost this game in the first half. We let the emotion and the atmosphere get to us," said Waters. "This is a tough place to play, and I tried to tell our players how tough it is. But it's hard to understand until you're here."

It's tough when Wally's hot, which he was as usual (26 points, 13 rebounds). But it's borderline impossible when Damon Frierson's also on fire ... and guess what?

Frierson, who entered the game shooting a dismal 22 percent from 3-point range, nailed three open 3-pointers early in the second half to help Miami take a commanding 48-28 lead with 14:23 remaining.

He wound up with a season-high 23 points after hitting 5-of-6 3-pointers.

"We didn't want to leave him open," said Kent State freshman guard Trevor Huffman. "Szczerbiak and Frierson, that's their two-headed monster, and we wanted to cut it off. We had a lot of miscommunication out there. We didn't get the job done defensively."

Huffman poured in 19 second-half points, helping the Flashes threaten to make a game of it.

Kent State crawled to within 59-47 at the 6:41 mark following a long 3-pointer by former Stow High School star Nate Meers, then had a chance to cut the deficit to 10 moments later.

But Szczerbiak stuffed John Callaway's attempt in the paint, and Miami center John Estick scored on a putback on the other end to seal the Flashes' fate.

"I give Miami credit," said Whorton, Kent State's leading scorer (13.2 points per game), who scored five points on 1-of-3 shooting from the field. "They played like champions, and they deserve it. But we're not gonna put our head in the sand.

"We got embarrassed, but we still have a lot to play for."

Despite the loss, the Flashes earned the No. 2 seed and will host Marshall in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament Saturday at 2 p.m.

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