Flashes take MAC title in 49-43 win over Miami

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

TOLEDO _ Forty-seven years of futility weren't supposed to end in 1999.

The Kent State men's basketball team wasn't supposed to catch even the slightest sniff of its first-ever Mid-American Conference championship this season, when the league's tougher than ever.

The Golden Flashes certainly weren't supposed to waltz into the MAC Tournament championship game against mighty Miami smelling title, when everyone else was smelling rout.

But then again, since when does this Kent bunch do what it's supposed to?

Correction, that's MAC Tournament champion Kent bunch, a title it earned by stunning the regular-season champion RedHawks 49-43 Wednesday night at the SeaGate Centre.

A title the Flashes earned by refusing to meet anyone's expectations. Anyone, that is, but their own.

"Many people did not believe in us," said coach Gary Waters, who led Kent to its first MAC championship of any kind and first NCAA Tournament berth in school history in just his third year in charge. "I remember sitting in this room for MAC Media Day in November, and people asked me what I thought about us being picked sixth in the East Division. I said, 'It's going to make me look like a great coach.'

"I knew what we were able to do last year and who we had coming back, and I knew we weren't a sixth-place team. But I never imagined we'd do all this. This is amazing."

The Flashes (23-6) were amazing. The RedHawks (22-7) were just plain amazed.

Amazed at how Kent junior center John Whorton, a non-factor in a regular-season ending loss at Miami that gave the RedHawks the MAC title, was able to consistently bulldoze his way through a mass of humanity in the paint and pile up a game-high 18 points and six rebounds.

"The last time we played Miami, I wasn't aggressive," said Whorton, who became the first player in Kent history to earn MAC Tournament MVP honors. "I told my teammates I was ready to be a force. They believed me and gave me the ball, and ... well, we're MAC champions."

Amazed at how sophomore forward Kyrem Massey and his many helpers could wreck Wally Szczerbiak's infamous 'World.' The MAC Player of the Year clanked 13-of-17 field-goal tries and finished with 17 of the ugliest points he's ever scored.

"With my long arms and his tired legs, no wonder he didn't make many shots," said Massey, who was named to the All-Tournament team. "And I had a lot of help out there. It wasn't all me."

Amazed at how senior Ed Norvell could stop the same Damon Frierson (7 points, all in the first half) that single-handedly beat Bowling Green in the closing minutes of Tuesday's semifinal contest stone cold in the pivotal second half.

"It may surprise you, but the guy we wanted to shut down going in was Frierson," said Waters. "We gave that assignment to the best defender in the MAC. That's Ed Norvell."

Without Szczerbiak and Frierson, the RedHawks' offense was rendered punchless. And Kent was able to muster enough points of its own to pull out a victory.

Barely.

In between defensive stops the two teams managed to connect on just 14-of-46 field goals in the first half, which ended painfully in a 17-17 tie.

The game was tied at 32 with 10:17 remaining when the Flashes' defense flat-out took over.

Buckets by Whorton ignited and ended a 10-2 run over the next 7:32 that gave Kent a 42-34 lead and complete control of the ballgame with 2:45 left.

Not even Szczerbiak, who missed 11 of his first 12 shots, could lift the RedHawks out of this scoring rut.

"We struggled mightily, and I've got to give Kent a lot of credit for that," said Szczerbiak. "They forced us to get out of our game, and that's why they're MAC champions."

Miami trimmed the Kent lead to as few as four with 43 seconds left, but freshman guard Trevor Huffman made 3-of-4 free throws and forced a turnover by Miami's Rob Mestas with 32 seconds remaining that ended all doubt.

Moments later the Flashes' faithful that made the trek to Toledo stormed the court to join in on a long overdue celebration that was never supposed to happen on this day.

No, those fans weren't supposed to be on the court. But that doesn't seem to matter anymore.

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