Late-season surge could allow Kent State to obtain No. 4 seed at MAC Tournament

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer Published:

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer

Although the season hasn't gone exactly as planned thus far, the Kent State men's basketball team still has a chance to achieve some lofty goals in 2012-13.

The regular-season stretch run begins with tonight's home matchup against Buffalo (11-16, 6-6 MAC), followed by a trip to Miami (8-17, 3-9) and a home date with Bowling Green (11-16, 5-7) before the finale at arch-rival Akron. Those first three games are highly winnable, and victories in all three would put Kent State (15-12, 5-7) in prime position to earn an all-important fourth seed for the Mid-American Conference Tournament -- which receives a bye into the quarterfinals.

Buffalo is currently fourth overall with a 6-6 league mark, trailing Akron (12-0) and Ohio (11-1) in the East Division, along with West Division leader Western Michigan (8-4). Kent State, however, is one of three teams just a game behind the Bulls, along with Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan. By winning the next three games, the Flashes would likely earn the No. 4 seed even if they fall at Akron in the regular-season finale.

Three more victories would also secure at least a .500 record in MAC play and give Kent State 18 wins, putting the Flashes in prime position to keep their streak of 14 consecutive seasons with 19 victories or more alive.

But first thing's first.

The Bulls storm into town winners of their last three MAC contests, seeking to avenge an 80-68 home loss to Kent State earlier this season.

"This game, being at home against a team that's one game ahead of us in the standings that we've already beaten this year, is obviously an important game for seeding in the MAC Tournament," said KSU head coach Rob Senderoff. "Buffalo's playing well, and we're gonna have to play well to beat them."

In the first matchup between the two teams this year, Kent State was able to overcome a monster effort by Buffalo's 6-foot-7, 250-pound junior forward Javon McCrea, who scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Flashes senior stars Chris Evans (25 points, 14 boards) and Randal Holt (27 points, 7 rebounds) offset McCrea's numbers by producing a combined 52 points and 21 boards of their own.

McCrea is the Bulls' anchor, ranking third in the MAC in scoring (17 ppg), rebounding (7.9 rpg) and field-goal percentage (.553) and second in blocked shots (2.5 bpg), while Evans (17 points, 7.6 rebounds) and Holt (13.8 points, 65 3-pointers) have carried the Flashes to three straight home wins and to three victories in their last four games overall.

However, both teams have had some other players step up during their respective recent runs of success.

Buffalo 6-2 senior guard Tony Watson (11 points, 2.9 assists per game) is averaging 26 points over the last three games, and has made six or more 3s in each of those contests. He now ranks second in the MAC in 3-point field-goal percentage (45.0) behind Kent State sophomore guard Kris Brewer (47.5), who has made 15 of his last 20 attempts from long range over the last six games.

Brewer is averaging 15.5 points and 4.3 assists for his last seven games, while junior forward Darren Goodson has produced 12.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per outing since the first game against Buffalo on Jan. 16. Junior swingman Bryson Pope has also given Kent State a lift off the bench of late, hitting all 10 of his field-goal attempts over the last three games.

"Tony Watson is playing phenomenal right now, like an all-conference player," said Senderoff. "For us Kris Brewer and Darren (Goodson) are both playing better, and Bryson's playing better. Overall (Buffalo) is playing a little bit better (than the first time the two teams met), and I'd say the same about us. It'll certainly be a tough game for us to win, but one that we need to win for sure."

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Email: amoff@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9445

Twitter: @MoffRC

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