By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Kris Brewer was nearly the hero in Kent State's first meeting of the season with defending Mid-American Conference Tournament champion Ohio.
The Golden Flashes' sophomore point guard scored eight points in the second half, including a layup with 1:14 remaining that gave his team a 68-67 lead.
But Bobcats star senior point guard D.J. Cooper one-upped his young challenger by piling up 14 points and four assists in the final 20 minutes, including a pair of free throws with 55 seconds that proved to be the difference in Ohio's 69-68 comeback win at the M.A.C. Center.
Still, although Brewer didn't wind up being the difference-maker that day, he's been a different player ever since, according to Kent State coach Rob Senderoff.
"The second half (against Ohio), I think that was a turning point for Kris Brewer to some degree," said Senderoff. "D.J. Cooper made a ton of plays and made winning plays, but in the second half, (Brewer) had eight points and I thought played well."
The second-half effort was in stark contrast to his opening 20 minutes, when Brewer went scoreless with three turnovers.
"D.J. Cooper deserves a ton of respect, but I thought Kris Brewer almost showed him too much respect and he didn't play very well in the first half," said Senderoff. "I think after that game he has played a little bit better."
That's probably a bit of an understatement.
Brewer, starting for the first time as a sophomore, had been struggling through an up-and-down campaign before the Ohio game. Great or solid showings were typically followed by mediocre ones at best, which produced overall mediocre numbers: 8.3 points per game on 43 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range, with 45 assists compared to 51 turnovers.
But in his last five games Brewer is averaging 13.4 points per contest on 67.8 percent shooting from the field with 15 assists to 13 turnovers. He's been incredibly hot from long range, nailing 11-of-16 3-pointers (68.8 percent), including 10-of-13 in his past three outings.
While his shooting has been stellar, Brewer's vastly improved overall floor game has been equally vital to KSU's recent offensive uptick. Kent State has won three of its last four while averaging 81.7 points per outing, with 60 assists compared to 39 turnovers.
The Flashes (14-11, 5-6 MAC) actually outplayed the mighty Bobcats (18-6, 9-1) for much of the game in that first matchup in Kent, but 20 turnovers ultimately did them in.
"In that first game, of the 20 turnovers we had, 13 of those 20 were completely unforced turnovers," said Senderoff. "To me what cost us the game was the 13 unforced turnovers. We have to limit that; it's a huge, huge key for us."
Much of that challenge will fall squarely on the shoulders of Brewer, who will face constant harassment from one of the winningest point guards in MAC history.
"I know D.J. Cooper's gonna try to get in (Brewer's) head. He's at home and he's a great player, one of the best to ever play in this conference," said Senderoff. "I'm not expecting Kris Brewer to shut him out, but we certainly need him to play well."