Andrew Mitchell has been a model of consistency throughout the 2002 Mid-American Conference men's basketball campaign.
Kent State's cat-quick and tenacious 5-foot-11 senior guard had reached double figures in nine consecutive games heading into Monday's showdown against Bowling Green while producing one rock-solid performance after another.
But Mitchell didn't turn in his typically steady showing against the Falcons. Instead, he turned it up a notch.
Mitchell poured in a career-high 26 points and blanked senior point guard Brandon Pardon on the defensive end to lead the first-place Golden Flashes to their eighth straight victory, a 76-64 triumph over Bowling Green before a crowd of 5,350 at the M.A.C. Center that all but eliminates coach Dan Dakich's squad from the regular-season league race.
Mitchell scored nine of his team's last 11 points, including a 3-pointer with 3:46 to play that increased the lead to 70-55 and ended what little doubt remained as Kent State (18-5, 10-1 MAC) maintained its two-game lead in the loss column over Ohio and Ball State while the Falcons (16-5, 6-4 MAC) fell 3 1/2 games back.
"As I say seemingly every time we come here, my hat's off to Kent State and Mitchell hurt us once again," said Dakich, whose squad dropped its fifth game in a row to the Flashes. "We've never been able to handle Mitchell. I felt like we guarded him pretty well a couple times and he just stepped up and made tough shots. He's quick and he's fearless."
Career-high performances by Mitchell and freshman center Nate Gerwig, who produced 21 points and nine rebounds, more than offset another sub-par offensive showing by Trevor Huffman. Kent State's senior star scored a season-low three points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field, and slipped to third on the team in scoring (14.6 ppg) behind junior forward Antonio Gates (15.4 ppg) and Mitchell (15.3 ppg).
But the Flashes didn't need Huffman's scoring on this night, thanks to another dominating defensive performance.
Pardon entered the contest averaging over 11 points per game but simply couldn't shake Mitchell, missing all four of his field-goal attempts.
Meanwhile, Gerwig and sophomore John Edwards (7 rebounds in 11 minutes) did a tremendous job defensively on Bowling Green's Len Matela, one of the MAC's top centers, who scored just eight points _ over seven below his seasonal average.
Gerwig took a pair of charges from Matela, the second of which sent the Falcon senior to the bench with his fifth foul at the 6:03 mark.
"Andrew and Nate were just outstanding," said Kent State coach Stan Heath. "They took their games up to a different level, and we needed every bit of it. Andrew did an outstanding job of taking away Pardon's offensive opportunities. It's rare to shut out such a good offensive player. And Nate and John did a good job of limiting Matela's touches and forcing him a little further off the block than he probably wanted to be.
"Overall, it was another great team effort defensively."
Kent State held its foe without a field goal for nearly six minutes to open the contest while sprinting to a 9-2 lead, and took a 29-22 advantage into the locker room after holding the Falcons to 30 percent shooting from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
The Flashes pushed the lead to 53-42 with 9:49 left following consecutive putbacks by Gerwig, and stayed in front by at least eight points down the stretch despite enduring a second-half scoring onslaught by Bowling Green senior guard Keith McLeod.
The former Canton McKinley star cemented his status as the MAC's top offensive player by burying 5-of-6 3-pointers in the second half, when he scored 22 of his game-high 29 points. But every time McLeod drained a seemingly big basket, Mitchell (3-of-5 3-pointers, 9-of-9 free throws) and company would answer.
"We tried everything in the world to stop (McLeod)," said Mitchell. "We knew he was going to get his, but the key for us was to score ourselves and keep them from making a run. It was a team effort. Trevor (Huffman, 6 assists) and Antonio (Gates, 4 assists) are excellent penetrators, and I just tried to get in the right spot so they could find me."
Gates (14 points, 5 boards) and senior forward Eric Thomas (8 points, 6 rebounds off the bench) also turned in solid efforts for the Flashes, who set a new school record for consecutive wins against conference opposition by earning their eighth straight league triumph.
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Kent State 76, Bowling Green 64
(At M.A.C. Center)
BOWLING GREEN (16-5, 6-4 MAC)
KENT STATE (17-5, 10-1 MAC)
Blocked Shots _ Bowling Green (1): Almanson 1. Kent State (2): Gates 1, Edwards 1. Turnovers _ Kent State, 15-14. Technical fouls _ None. Officials _ Dan Fouser, Tom Clark, Keith Herring. Attendance _ 5,350.