The Kent State men's basketball team played well enough in its first game of the hotly-anticipated 1999-2000 campaign to defeat Youngstown State by a comfortable 78-56 margin before 2,752 jubilant fans at the MAC Center on Tuesday.
But the Golden Flashes also struggled enough at times to give coach Gary Waters plenty to rant and rave about when the team reassembles on Friday following a brief Thanksgiving break.
"We have a long way to go, but that's the way it should be right now," said Waters. "This is our first game, and we knew going in there'd be a lot of inconsistencies. We're gonna get better.
"Our goal is to be a great team by January and February, not in November."
Kent was great early on against the Penguins (1-2), who seemed on the verge of getting thoroughly embarrassed when they fell behind 30-13 just over 14 minutes into the contest.
The Flashes defense completely stifled Youngstown State, which had trouble merely getting shots off, while high-flying junior forward Kyrem Massey threw down a pair of thunderous dunks to ignite Kent on the offensive end.
However, the pace suddenly bogged down for the remainder of the first half. And so did the Flashes, whose lead was whittled to 39-26 by halftime.
Youngstown State senior swingman Elmer Brown, who scored 30 points against top-ranked Cincinnati last Saturday, was shutout in the first half. But junior forward Desmond Harrison came off the bench to score 11 points and keep the Penguins fairly close.
But not for long.
After a quick basket by Harrison brought Youngstown State within 11, Kent went on a 14-4 run to take complete control. Senior center John Whorton and junior forward Eric Thomas scored four points each in the paint during the run, while sophomore guard Trevor Huffman's steal and layup increased the Kent lead to 53-32 with 13:40 remaining.
"We felt they couldn't stop us inside," said Waters. "The opportunities to throw it in and kick it out were there, but we just couldn't make a 3-pointer."
The Flashes finished 0-for-9 from long range.
"This is one of the better teams I've been associated with at shooting the three," said Waters. "We just weren't on tonight."
Kent maintained a safe cushion the rest of the way. Still, while they pushed the lead as high as 28 following a steal and layup by sophomore guard Demetric Shaw (four steals), the Flashes were never able to run the Penguins completely out of the gym.
"In one stretch we forced seven turnovers and only converted once," said Waters. "That's our game. We forced 26 turnovers, and if we would have done a better job of converting them into points it wouldn't have been as difficult as it was."
Those 26 turnovers produced just 29 points.
"But I see we held them to (39 percent shooting), and I care about that more than anything else," said Waters. "That shows we can shut teams down."
Brown wound up with just seven points but Harrison tossed in 16 for the pesky Penguins, who were playing their third game in five days.
"That's no excuse," said rookie coach John Robic. "We just got beat by a better team."
Whorton finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks to pace the Flashes, while Mitchell also scored 14 points and Huffman added 12 points and nine rebounds.
"This wasn't our best effort. We're still trying to achieve the standard
of excellence coach Waters demands," said Whorton. "We have some kinks
to work out, but we'll get it done."