Getting their guard up

Chris Gates

Broncos’ perimeter presents challenge to Flashes’ defense

The Kent State men’s basketball team has had a tough time defending the post in recent games.

Against Akron last Saturday, Kent State allowed brothers Brett and Chris McKnight to combine to score 40 points down low in a 68-54 loss. Against Eastern Michigan on Tuesday, Eagles forwards Justin Dobbins and Brandon Bowdry combined for another 31 points.

Luckily for the Flashes (9-11, 2-4 Mid-American Conference), their post players should get some relief tomorrow when Kent State visits Western Michigan – a team whose strength resides in its guards.

Junior guard David Kool and senior guard Shawntes Gary account for more than 40 percent of the Broncos’ total offense. Kent State coach Geno Ford said the two guards will be the focal point for the Flashes’ defense.

“Our five perimeter guys … need to outplay their perimeter guys,” Ford said. “Their perimeter guys’ numbers are better than ours.

“It’s the first game we’ve had in a while that really (is) a game where our guards aren’t going to have to help down in the post a whole bunch. They’re going to be able to lock in and match up with who they have.”

Kool leads Western Michigan in scoring, averaging 16.7 points per game. Gary adds another 10.8 per game and creates a duo that is tough to defend.

In dropping two of their last three games, though, the Broncos have displayed that they struggle to win when their perimeter shooting is struggling.

“The thing is, you’ve got to make them shoot a bad percentage,” Ford said. “They’re going to get shots.

“We’re going to have to really do a job on their kids on the wings and not allow them to have a 20 point game on 50 percent shooting.”

Against Eastern Michigan, Kent State improved dramatically both offensively and defensively in the second half. Ford said he was happy with the way the team worked through its shooting woes and focused on changing the game with defense. It resulted in forcing 17 turnovers in the Flashes’ 68-46 win.

Whether the game was a stepping stone or just a lone bright spot in a gloomy losing streak will depend, again, on that defensive intensity.

Senior guard Al Fisher said he’s looking forward to the challenge. Because Kool scored 21 points on the Flashes’ defense last year, Fisher and the other guards have an added incentive to play a shutdown style of defense.

“It makes you step your game up,” Fisher said. “It shows you what you’re about.

“We’ve got to come out and do what we do. It’s going to be a great challenge. Everybody’s ready to step up to it and see what we’re going to do.”

Although there may be less pressure on the post players to perform for Kent State, there hasn’t been any lack of work on that part of the game in practice.

In fact, Ford said Western Michigan’s guards are versatile enough that they are able to post up down low to free up space around the perimeter.

With the midway point of the conference season approaching, the team understands how important their upcoming games against MAC West opponents are. After Wednesday’s win against Eastern Michigan, confidence is running high.

“Hopefully everyone got their confidence back and (will) just play to the best of their abilities,” Fisher said. “We should be ready on Saturday.”

Contact reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].