Why we go to away games

Joe Harrington

There are times when you have to consider if a road game is worth covering. And when you are covering a very talented Division I basketball team, such as the Kent State men’s basketball team, you have to ask: Is this game worth going to?

Do you really want to drive seven hours to see them do what you think will happen? You say: We can always listen on the radio and call players after the game, so why go?

Or of course you could argue the trip’s relevance if the game is against a very talented ranked team, and it’s on ESPN2. Why cover that game? They could lose, and it’s on television.

We look back in retrospect and ask :

• Was the trip to Buffalo, the team that is stuck at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference, worth driving to in the snow?

• Was the Central Michigan game, the team that the Flashes beat for their 20th win of the season, worth going to despite spinning out of control on the highway only a half hour outside Kent ?

• Do we really need to go to Chapel Hill and see Kent State play then-No.1 and Final Four hopeful North Carolina?

Now in retrospect, we ponder: Was the St. Mary’s game, the Top-25 team whose campus is a six-hour flight and $100 taxi ride away, reasonable for us to cover in the middle of the semester?

Answer to all those questions: Yes. Why? Because this team truly is a Top-25-caliber team.

The Flashes came into St. Mary’s on a mission. They started off strong and ended even stronger. Yes, they were down by as many as nine in the final five minutes, but when you have seniors like forwards Mike Scott and Haminn Quaintance, you’re never going to be out of a game.

Quaintance played nearly 12 minutes of the second half with four fouls. Think about that: If he had picked up a foul with four minutes left, we lose. No question about it — the Flashes lose the game. But that didn’t stop him from having arguably his biggest block of the season with less than a minute left in the game. He never changed his style despite the foul trouble.

Bill Needle, the Flashes radio announcer on WNIR, said he has never seen a player do what “Q” did in the second half and probably never will again. If the fifth-year senior doesn’t win the MAC Defensive Player of the Year award, someone really screwed up.

At this point, I feel bad that halfway through this column, I haven’t mentioned junior guard Al Fisher’s name. Executives in the NBA become legends if they’re able to sign a free agent all-star days before the season; now I know why. Kent State coach Jim Christian barely knew who Fisher was before he signed with the team. Now, Fisher could be the MAC Player of the Year. Who else deserves it more than him? Leon Williams of Ohio? Jeremiah Wood of Akron? Michael Bramos of Miami?

Fisher was taking and making shots that the Harlem Globetrotters are scared to take. Or, in other words, Fisher was taking shots that make people get on a plane and fly for six hours and pay $100 for a cab. He tied a career high with 28 points. In the last six games the Flashes have won, Fisher is averaging 21 points a game. Because this team is so deep and has many scoring options, that’s impressive.

Meanwhile, St. Mary’s talented freshman guard Patty Mills, who was supposed to be the best guard on the court, struggled to hit open shots and pretty much do anything. He finished 10 points below his average. Junior guard Jordan Mincy was on Mills on all night, solidifying Mincy’s status as one of the better defensive guards in the MAC.

The win over St. Mary’s isn’t just the biggest regular season win for guys like Mincy, Scott and Fisher, but it’s the biggest win for the MAC this season.

Yes, I know Ohio beat Maryland — but last time I checked, Maryland isn’t in the Top 25. The Flashes were representing the MAC against a team from a conference that has seemingly captured the status of “best mid-major conference in the country.”

Well, maybe the West Coast Conference is that good. But Kent State not only beat St. Mary’s — they did it playing typical, physical, MAC basketball. Coming into the game, I felt the Flashes would need to put their track shoes on to compete with the Gaels. I was wrong. It was St.Mary’s who was out of place. I should have known this was possible because Christian is constantly saying just how good and tough the MAC is, but I guess I just didn’t believe it until now.

So why do you fly cross country to cover a team that is playing on national television? Because if you don’t, and it’s your beat, you won’t see Bill Needle on cloud nine. You won’t hear 3,000 people literally gasp after Al Fisher defies gravity. But most importantly, if you don’t cover a game like this — and it’s late February — you won’t know how to cover this team in mid-March.

Contact assistant sports editor Joe Harrington at [email protected].