Flashes continue perfect MAC season

Sean Joseph

The whole team clicked last night, sending the Kent State men’s basketball team to a 15-point victory over Western Michigan and earning themselves a 5-0 Mid-American Conference record for the first time in team history.

The Flashes (11-5, 5-0 MAC) had five players in double digits, led by seniors Jay Youngblood with 13 and DeAndre Haynes with 12. Senior Nate Gerwig, junior Armon Gates and redshirt freshman Isaac Knight all scored 11.

Gates recorded a pulse for the first time against a MAC opponent. He had scored only three points in five out of six of Kent State’s last games. He also contributed five rebounds.

“The beautiful thing about Armon is that when he doesn’t play well he still works hard and comes in early to work on his shot,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “He’s too good of a player to not play like he did tonight.”

Gates said he put in extra time yesterday before the game and felt comfortable with what he was doing.

“Coach prepared me, and I knew when it was time to come in and help the team out,” Gates said.

Western Michigan (4-11, 1-4 MAC) had a two-point lead after the first half. Kent State held its opponent to 36 percent shooting in the second half.

“As much as I was challenging them during half-time, they were challenging themselves. That is a sign of a good team,” Christian said. “Everybody played really unselfishly tonight. We had five guys in double figures. I’m very happy with the defensive energy in the second half.”

Haynes said the crowd was a factor in the decisive victory.

“You’d see us pumpin’ at the crowd, everyone going crazy and coach stomping his feet on the court. When we see him smile, it’s a good thing,” Haynes said.

Sophomore Joe Reitz led the Broncos with 18 points despite a consistent double teaming effort by the Flashes.

“Every time he touched the ball he got trapped,” Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said. “So to wind up with only three turnovers is good, and to get 18 points is outstanding.”

Hawkins said the story of the game was Kent State executing critical possessions. He said the Broncos could not keep up with the endurance of the Flashes’ defense, and that their loss came because the Flashes’ defense was so disciplined, but not because of the Broncos’ lack of effort.

Hawkins said Haynes controlled the game late in the second half and that he is one of the best guards in the MAC. But Western could not focus on one or two players because of how successfully Kent State was shooting the ball.

Western has one MAC East Division opponent left before moving on to playing other MAC West teams, and so far the only victory they have had came against Bowling Green Jan. 7. Yet, they are still right in the thick of the MAC West race.

Northern Illinois leads the division with a 4-2 conference record, followed by Western and Toledo, both at 1-4. Three undefeated teams remain in the MAC East: Kent State, Miami and Akron.

“It has been a brutal schedule. There is no question the MAC East is stronger than the West,” Hawkins said. “No year since I have been coaching has there been so much more success in one division than the other.”

The Flashes look to extend their winning streak and undefeated record in the MAC to six games against Northern Illinois on Saturday afternoon in DeKalb, Ill.

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