Flashes dominate to win MAC East

Sean Joseph

Flashes claim win over defending champs

Senior guard DeAndre Haynes holds up the banner for the 2006 MAC Regular Season Champions. The Flashes play their last regular season game Saturday at Akron and then go on to the MAC Tournament which begins March 9 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Chants of “we are Kent State” turned into “we are MAC Champs” as the clock wound down last night at the M.A.C. Center, and the Kent State men’s basketball team beat Ohio 78-58 and clinched the Mid-American East Division Championship.

“We’ve had total chemistry this season. None of these 11 guys have lost focus,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “They hung a sign up in the locker room with how many games they thought they needed to win to do it, and they never lost sight of their goal.”

With the win over Ohio (16-10, 9-8 MAC), the defending MAC Tournament Champions, the Flashes (22-7, 15-2 MAC) now have a one-and-a-half game lead over Akron in the MAC. An outright championship is still pending on Akron’s game tonight at Buffalo and the Flashes’ and Zips’ matchup Saturday at the James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron. Ohio remains fourth in the MAC East Conference.

Kent State put Ohio down 11-2 in the opening minutes of the first half and were up 48-27 at the break, making it their highest-scoring first half of the season.

“They delivered the knock-out punch in the first round and never let us recover from it,” Ohio coach Tim O’Shea said. “If they’re fortunate enough to get to the NCAA Tournament, they can be just as dangerous as they were four years ago when they made it to the Elite Eight.”

Senior guard DeAndre Haynes scored a game-high 24 points and made 6-of-9 3-point attempts. After the game, the team and coaching staff then each took turns cutting the net off the rim – and as captain, Haynes got the scissors last and cut it loose. Kent State team manager Justin Phelps unveiled the banner that will soon be placed in the M.A.C. Center’s rafters reading “2006 MAC Champions.”

“It feels great ’cause every year I see someone else come out with it,” Haynes said about the Flashes’ first regular season MAC Championship since he has been on the team – and second of all time. “It means even more tonight because it was against the defending champs, and they didn’t come out with (the championship), we did.”

The Bobcats came out fighting in the second half, but despite out-shooting the Flashes 55 percent to 42 percent in the half, they couldn’t pull it off. Ohio never led in the game and could only pull to 15 points down during the second half.

“Things are really feeling good,” said Laing Kennedy, Kent State Director of Athletics. “With eight years with over 20 wins, this hasn’t happened very much. Jim Christian has done a magnificent job, and I’m so proud of these guys. I know how hard they’ve worked, and it’s phenomenal.”

Kent State will play its final regular-season game at noon Saturday in Akron. They have secured a first-round bye and the top seed in the MAC Tournament in Cleveland, which will begin for the Flashes March 9.

Contact men’s basketball reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected].