Flashes 4-0 in MAC, 14 to go

Sean Joseph

Youngblood, Smith lead team to victory

Kent State men’s basketball coach Jim Christian knows it’s way too early to buy the celebratory champagne, but after beating Eastern Michigan on the road Saturday night, the team is 4-0 against Mid-American Conference teams for the second time in school history.

“I’m not surprised we’re 4-0,” Christian said after the Flashes’ (10-5, 4-0 MAC) 74-64 victory over the Eagles (3-9, 0-4 MAC). “But we have 14 games left, and it’s nothing to get excited about. There are three other teams that are (undefeated) in the MAC right now.”

Early in the game, there were several lead changes as the teams traded field goals. But with eight minutes and 34 second left in the first half, the Flashes, led by senior guard Jay Youngblood who scored 23 points and got five rebounds, took the lead away from the Eagles for good with a 19-4 run.

Kent State went into the locker room at half time with a 14-point lead, but as Christian pointed out after the game, they braced for a nail-biter. And in good measure, because Eastern Michigan shaved the lead to one point with 3:44 left in the game with a 13-2 run capped by a lay-up by Eastern Michigan freshman Gino Smith. The run included five points by Eastern Michigan’s leading scorer senior John Bowler, who finished the game with 23 points, and two three-point goals by the Eagles.

“We have a problem with closing games,” senior Nate Gerwig said. “But when it was close, coach got mad, and we knew we had to get the win.”

Gerwig, who has been suffering from a knee injury since the team’s trip to California in December, said Saturday night’s game was the first time in three weeks his knee has felt 100 percent. And it’s a good thing for the team, too. Gerwig scored 10 points, pulled down eight rebounds and made two crucial shots from the free-throw line with 2:31 left to increase the Flashes’ lead to five and secure the win.

“Coach told me, ‘You’re a senior. You need to step up and make these free throws so we can win and go home,’ so I knew I had no choice but to make them,” Gerwig said.

Christian said it was good to see Gerwig step up and perform as well as he did because he needs the whole team playing to its full potential.

“We still haven’t seen the whole team click at the same time,” Christian said. “But when the game was on the line, we stepped up.”

Senior DeAndre Haynes, who scored nine points, said they didn’t even start playing defense well until the final two minutes in the game.

Other Flashes who contributed in double digits were junior Omni Smith and senior Kevin Warzynski with 12 and 10, respectively. Sophomore Mike Scott also contributed 5 rebounds.

At home in front of a sparse fan base, Eastern Michigan made the game closer than a lot of people thought it would be after the first half of play.

But at the end of the night, the Eagles could not execute the plays they needed to get their first conference win.

“We failed to execute when we had opportunities,” Eastern Michigan coach Charles Ramsey said. “You have to execute in games of this magnitude against teams of this caliber.”

Eastern Michigan’s run in the second half got their blood flowing and the crowd in the game again, but fell short because Kent State played tougher and more aggressively than they did, Ramsey said.

The Flashes had some added support to make a win on the road easier and more attractive. Family and friends of Haynes, Youngblood and redshirt freshman Isaac Knight packed the section right behind the Kent State bench and made sure to be heard.

“The guys from Detroit had a little extra to give tonight,” Gerwig said. “(Haynes) had more family and friends in the stands tonight than there were Eastern students.”

Haynes agreed he was playing to impress.

“It was like coming home. I had about 30 family members and friends here tonight,” Haynes said. “I hadn’t played in front of some of these people for years. My high-school coach was here, my middle-school coach and my middle-school math teacher.”

The Flashes look to improve their perfect conference record to 5-0 and extend their four game winning streak against Western Michigan (4-10, 1-3 MAC) at 7 p.m. tonight at the M.A.C. Center.

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